Newfound Bats are Real Suckers

Ventral view of the holotype of Myzopoda schliemanni obtained in the Parc National d’Ankarafantsika in the western portion of Madagascar and recently described in Mammalian Biology. Previously, only one species in this endemic Malagasy Family of bats was known to science. Now there are two. (Image credit: Photo by Steven M. Goodman, Courtesy of The Field Museum)

In the world of bats, there was only one known sucker-foot. Now there are two.

Scientists have discovered a second species of bat with adhesive organs, or suckers, attached to its thumbs and hind feet, allowing the creatures to climb and cling upright to smooth tree leaves.

The new species [image], Myzopoda schliemanni, discovered in the dry western forests of Madagascar [image], belongs to a family of bats, Myzopoda, found in Madagascar and nowhere else in the world. Previously, scientists knew only of a sister species, Myzopoda aurita [image], which lives only in the humid eastern forests of Madagascar.

Both species are spotted where broad-leafed plants, especially the Travelers' Palm, are plentiful. The bats often roost in the slick greens during the day.

Up to now, sucker-footed bats were considered endangered because there was only one known species in the family and because of their limited distribution worldwide. But the finding of the second sucker-footed species means their range is broader than previously thought. And given the discovery of the new bat in a dry forest, members of the sucker-footed bat family could survive even if tropical forests are lost to deforestation, a huge issue in Madagascar where less than 10 percent of the country's original forest cover remains.

"For now, we do not have to worry as much about the future of Myzopoda," said Steven M. Goodman, Field Museum biologist and lead author of a study published online in the journal Mammalian Biology. "We can put conservation efforts on behalf of this bat on the backburner because it is able to live in areas that have been completely degraded, contrary to what is indicated or inferred in the current literature."

Goodman and colleagues believe that because of the similarities between the two Myzopoda, one species evolved from another, most likely after the bat dispersed from east to west.?

Biodiversity in Madagascar, an island off the eastern coast of Africa, is one of the most critically threatened in the world. The nation has one of the highest levels of endemism worldwide (endemism is the condition when a species is found only in one location or region in the world).

Sara Goudarzi
Sara Goudarzi is a Brooklyn writer and poet and covers all that piques her curiosity, from cosmology to climate change to the intersection of art and science. Sara holds an M.A. from New York University, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, and an M.S. from Rutgers University. She teaches writing at NYU and is at work on a first novel in which literature is garnished with science.