Sunday, January 3, 2016

Barbuda Gets a New Fossil Bat Record

I am happy to announce the first record of Peters' ghost-faced bat Mormoops megalophylla from the Caribbean island of Barbuda (Orihuela and Tejedor, 2015). Our report is based on fossil remains excavated by the late Walter Auffenberg and F. Wayne King during their fieldwork there in the late 1950s.

Fossil left dentary (mandible) of Peters ghost-faced bat Mormoops megalophylla from the Barbuda, FLMNH.

These remains represent an interesting extralimital record for these bats. They, along with other known fossil bats, indicate that the Antigua-Barbuda archipelago in the Lesser Antilles had a greater bat diversity than today. This is the apparent scenario in all of the West Indian islands.

Peters ghost-faced bats are medium-sized insectivorous bats, well-spread endemics of the Americas. They belong to the Mormoopidae bat family, where some are peculiarly called ghost-faced bats because of their horrific facial warts and flaps. Such intricate facial ornaments help these bats to echolocate, a sonar-like sound emission that allows them to catch insects while in flight. Despite their terrific facial expressions - which many find fascinating, I included - they are proficient insect hunters, especially of moths, and can devour dozens of them in a single night. Mormoopids are among the fastest flying bats.

Adult Antillean ghost-faced bat Mormoops blainvillei from Los Patos, in southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola. This species is very similar to Peter's ghost-faced bat M. megalophylla but is much smaller and endemic to the Caribbean.

My research often takes me to visit museum collections. Some of these collections can be well over a century old, some can be several even older. Most museum priced collections reside in their drawers and cabinets, away from the public eye. Sometimes field collections are sent to museums where they are stored away awaiting their cleaning. Sometimes they are forgotten, only to be rediscovered decades later. For researchers, these can be real treasure troves. I was fortunate to find such a hidden treasure while studying fossil bats in the vertebrate paleontology collections at the University of Florida in 2004 (FLMNH at UF) were A. Tejedor and I discovered these specimens.

While looking through some boxes we found particular remains of Mormoops megalophylla within the multiple vials of unidentified and uncatalogued remains from caves at Two Foot Bay, on the eastern side of the island of Barbuda in the Lesser Antilles. They had been erroneously identified as another smaller but highly similar species, the Antillean ghost-faced bat Mormoops blainvillei.

Fossil mormoopid dentary collection from Barbuda stored for research, Florida Museum of Natural History.

This discovery is not unexpected. Many of the material collected in these caves still remains to be studied and cataloged. It is often the practice of field and museum researchers to keep some of the matrices, meaning soil mixed with the bones of vertebrates, rocks, pebbles and etcetera, saved in museum collections for further research in the future.

In this sense, the museum's archival role is evident. They serve as a record of life's history. An educational institution dedicated to research and preservation. It is important that museums continue to fulfill their roles, because as it is the case in science, one never knows from where will the next discovery come from.

To share my love for museums once more, please visit my previous post The Stories in Museum Drawers.

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