An unusual breed of fruit bat—previously nicknamed 'Yoda' due to its resemblance to the Star Wars Jedi Master—has now officially been registered as a new species and renamed the happy (Hamamas) tube-nosed fruit bat.
Discovered in a remote rainforest of Papua New Guinea, the bat's unusual features immediately saw it affectionately referred to as the 'Yoda bat'.
However, after thorough research examining literature and some 3000 specimens in 18 museums around the world, a University of York researcher has now formally distinguished and registered the new species.
Dr Nancy Irwin, an Honorary Research Fellow in York's Department of Biology, explains: "The species is very difficult to tell apart from other tube-nosed bat species. Bat species often look similar to each other, but differ significantly in behaviour, feeding and history.
"Most of the morphological characteristics that separate this bat from other species are associated with a broader, rounder jaw which gives the appearance of a constant smile.
"Since most remote Papuans have never seen Star Wars, I thought it fitting to use a local name: the Hamamas—meaning happy – tube-nosed fruit bat."
The happy tube-nosed fruit bat's formal name, Nyctimene wrightae sp. nov., is named after the conservationist Dr Deb Wright, who devoted 20 years to building conservation programmes and long-term scientific capacity in Papua New Guinea.
Nyctimeninae were one of the first species of bat described in records dating back to 1769, and later in 1860 Alfred Russel Wallace – British naturalist and one of the fathers of evolution—collected two further species.
The bats' tube noses, bright colours, thick stripe on the back and spots have attracted attention for some 250 years, but researchers are still finding new hidden species in the group.
Dr Irwin continues: "There were no illustrations of the cyclotis group of bats which made identifying bats really difficult. So difficult was it that Papua New Guinea produced stamps illustrating the bats but could not allocate a species name.
"Now, with photographs, illustrations and a key of the other species in the group, it makes it possible to distinguish between three species of the group.
"Taxonomy is often the forgotten science but until a species is recognised and has a name, it becomes difficult to recognize the riches of biodiversity and devise management. Fruit bats are crucial to rainforest health, pollinating and dispersing many tree species, therefore it is essential we know what is there and how we can protect it, for our own benefit."
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Nancy Irwin. A new tube-nosed fruit bat from New Guinea, Nyctimene wrightae sp. nov., a re-diagnosis of N. certans and N. cyclotis (Pteropodidae: Chiroptera), and a review of their conservation status, Records of the Australian Museum (2017). DOI: 10.3853/j.2201-4349.69.2017.1654