The new Halloween-hued bat, Myotis nimbaensis, was found after scientists set out on an expedition in 2018 to survey the habitat of an endangered bat species in the West African country of Guinea, the New York Times reported.
“It was kind of a life goal in a way, one that I never thought would happen,” said Dr. Jon Flanders, director of endangered species interventions at Bat Conservation International, a nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas. “Every species is important, but you get drawn to the interesting-looking ones, and this one really is spectacular.”
However, it took roughly two years to determine the Myotis nimbaensis was a new species. (The bat is named for Guinea’s Nimba Mountains where it was discovered.) The confirmation and details on the find were published Wednesday in the journal American Museum Novitates.
“When I saw it for the first time, I thought it was a common species,” said Dr. Eric Bakwo Fils, a bat expert at the University of Maroua in Cameroon, according to the paper.
Scientists said they found the pumpkin-orange bat mixed in with the usual brown ones in their trap, originally believing it to be just a weirdly colored one.
Dr. Flanders and Dr. Bakwo Fils spent that night trying to solve the mystery.
“The following morning, I met up with Eric, and almost at the same time, we said, ‘This is a new species,’” Dr. Flanders said.
Experts say about 20 new bat species are found each year, according to the Washington Post. Although, none typically have the striking look of the Myotis nimbaensis.
“The color is just phenomenal,” Flanders told the paper. “Its wings are black with these orange fingers. There aren’t a lot orange bats in the world. I don’t tend to work with that many brightly colored bats. It’s definitely an unusual one for me.”
After their find, the researchers — through genetic analysis — determined that Myotis nimbaensis was at least five percent different from its closest related relatives.
The next step is to learn about the species ecology, so they can determine how to best protect it, Flanders said, according to the New York Times. Dr. Bakwo Fils added that he hopes the unique discovery and buzz surrounding it will serve as a catalyst to help better protect the region’s bats.
“This discovery is very important in terms of West Africa’s bat biodiversity, because even if bats are a very important component of our ecosystems, they rarely receive attention,” he said.