Bats are an incredibly diverse group of animals – and that diversity gets richer with each passing year. The increasing use of DNA analyses, plus new new discoveries in little-studied parts of the world, have produced another sharp increase in the "official" number of worldwide bat species.
Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from Texas’ Bracken Cave. Photo © Merlin D. Tuttle, BCI
Nancy Simmons of the American Museum of Natural History reported a new total of at least 1,293 living bat species during the recent International Bat Research Conference (IBRC) in Costa Rica. That's more than 20 percent of all mammal species.
She also noted that about a dozen other potentially new species are in the process of being confirmed and named. And another 247 bat species are listed as extinct.
Simmons had raised the total to 1,232 at the 2010 IBRC in Czech Republic, and in 2003 she boosted the number of bat species to 1,105 – from the 925 cited since 1993.
She says the main factor behind the increases is that more researchers are using new technologies, "which are playing a powerful role in showing a lot of hidden diversity in what were once thought to be wide-ranging species.
"But some genuinely new bats – never before seen – are captured and identified every year," Simmons said. "These discoveries are often made in parts of the world where there has been little previous work or where past surveys only began to scratch the surface. Still other new species are discovered in museum drawers where close examinations and comparisons show that specimens collected years ago are not what they were originally thought to be.
"All of these kinds of discovery," she said, "are part of the picture that is showing bats to be more diverse than we thought."