Preserved specimens of a type of nectar-eating bat sit in museum drawers all over the world. But now it looks as though the museums have half as many of one type of bat as they thought they did. Or, looked at another way, they had twice as many kinds of bat.

Flitting around a desert region in northern Brazil are members of a species called Lonchophylla mordax. These are nectar-eating bats that help pollinate the plants in the desert. There are other kinds of Lonchophylla all over Brazil. L. mordax is its own species because it has a slightly different head size, tooth shape, and furry little belly when compared to the the rest of the Lonchophylla, but it’s not a zoological find. It was first described, and specimens were put in museums, all the way back in 1903.

Researchers taking a look at L. mordax, both in the wild and in museum collections, noticed that some of the bats had paler belly fur, but difference in pigment isn’t strange. Looking closer, they saw that the paler species also had a different head size, and a different tooth shape. The traits that distinguished L. mordax from the rest of the Lonchophylla distinguished the pale specimens from the dark specimens of L. mordax.

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The researchers realized that they had a new species on their hands. L. mordax had spent the past hundred years being squashed together, academically, with L. inexpectata—the apt name they gave the new species. We see the contrast in color, with L. inexpectata on top, in the picture above. It looks like museums and labs everywhere will have to check to see which bats they have, and break out the new labels for century-old specimens.

[Source: A New Species of Nectar-Feeding Bat]

Top Image: © Hans Hillewaert, Second Image: Dr. Ricardo Moratelli