Bolivian golden bat revealed as 'new species'

Myotis midastactus specimen (previously identified as Myotis simus) Myotis midastactus has very short, yellow-gold fur and is thought to live only in Bolivia

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A golden bat from Bolivia has been described as a new species by scientists.

Myotis midastactus had previously been classified as another bat found in South America called Myotis simus.

But examination of a collection of museum specimens suggested the existence of a different species, thought to live only in Bolivia.

Its most distinctive characteristic is its golden-yellow, very short and woolly fur.

This bright colouration - which is unique among New World Myotis species - earned the bat its new name midastactus, after the Greek legend of King Midas and his golden touch.

There are over 100 species of Myotis - or mouse-eared bats - in the world.

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In the wild, Myotis midastactus lives in the Bolivian savanna. It eats small insects and roosts during the day in holes in the ground, hollow trees and under thatched roofs.

The full description of the species, published online in the Journal of Mammalogy, was carried out by Dr Ricardo Moratelli and Dr Don Wilson, from Fundacao Oswaldo Cruz (Oswaldo Cruz Foundation), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, US respectively.

Dr Moratelli built on a paper he published in 2011 suggesting differences in bats from Bolivia to others found in the Amazon basin.

The team carried out detailed morphological and morphometric statistical analyses of 27 museum specimens kept in several museums in the US and Brazil, to confirm the existence of a distinct species.

Dr Moratelli admitted he has been unable to capture living specimens of Myotis midastactus, despite having spent two months trying to do so. However he highlighted the importance of museum specimens as a resource for studying biodiversity: "I can confidently say that many new species from different zoological groups are in museum cabinets around the world, awaiting recognition and formal description."

He added: "Discovering new species is the most exciting part of my research, and in some cases describing a new species can be the first step to preserve others."

According to the new study, the conservation status of Myotis midastactus is not yet clear. But it acknowledges that scientists previously described Myotis simus living in Bolivia (now believed to be Myotis midastactus) as "near threatened".

The new study also suggests Myotis simus - also known as velvety Myotis - does not live in Bolivia, although it is found in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru.

Myotis midastactus is the fifth new species of bat Dr Moratelli has described. Others include Myotis diminutus, a tiny bat species found in the Ecuadorian Andes; Myotis lavali from north-eastern Brazil, Myotis izecksohni found in Atlantic forest in southern Brazil, and Myotis handleyi from the mountains of northern Venezuela.

The new discovery is the latest development of a larger project which aims to find out more about mouse-eared bats living in the neotropical ecozone.

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