Scientists have discovered two new yellow-bellied bat species in Kenya, a finding that could pave the way for the discovery of more species of the flying mammal across Africa.
The two are part of the Scotophilus species, which are found across Africa and southern Asia. They average around five inches in length and sport bright yellow fur on their bellies.
The researchers from Chicago’s Field Museum gathered DNA from skin samples taken from bats in Kenya, and compared it with data from an online genetic database.
“These species are unknown to science. There was no reason to expect that we would find two new species,” said Terry Demos, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Museum.
“It’s interesting to know what evolutionary forces have driven and maintained the current diversity of mammals in Africa. We need to have an accurate inventory of how many species there are so we can identify biodiversity hotspots and preserve them.”
The Scotophilus species were first discovered nearly 200 years ago. They live in urban environments, and some, such as the yellow house bat, often roost in the nooks and crannies of homes and other man-made structures.
At least 21 Scotophilus species have been discovered across Africa and Southeast Asia — more than half of them over the past 15 years — with 13 species native to the African continent, but the researchers believe the number of African species could be as high as 15, with 10 of them in Kenya alone.
“Africa is understudied, its biodiversity is underestimated, and there are threats to its biodiversity. This research gives a framework for future scientists to categorise species of bats and describe new species,” Mr Demos said.
With more than 1,200 species, bats make up one-fifth of all mammal species. But the remote areas they inhabit has made studying wild bats difficult.