"They’re cute. They look a lot like the bats you see in Chicago but they’re this
great yellow color," says Terry Demos, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Chicago’s Field
Museum and lead author of a recent paper in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and
These furry creatures can roost in the nooks and crannies of homes
"These are bats that live with people — they don’t call them house bats for
nothing," adds Bruce Patterson, MacArthur Curator of Mammals at the Field Museum
and co-author of the study.
Bats usually don’t fly too far to find a home either.
Despite having wings, bats prefer to stay in a specific region, resulting in
huge amounts of diversity throughout Africa.
Before understanding how these bat species related to one another, it was
difficult to even research them.
"We were using three different names for these bats in the field," says
That kind of evolutionary confusion is enough to make anyone batty.
As Demos and Patterson explain, bats that look very similar could have wildly
different genetic information.
This means that new species could be hiding in plain sight due to their
physical similarities to other species.
The only way to solve this mystery is to use cutting-edge genetic analysis
Skin samples collected from the field in Kenya, combined with information
from an online genetic database, provided clarity to species confusion.
Comparing all the DNA sequences of the samples showed the amount of
The more similar the DNA, the closer species are to each other
This information was then used to make a chart that looks like a tree, with
branches coming off one point.
The tree is similar to a family tree, but instead of showing the
relationships between different family members, it shows the relationships
The results accomplished the goal of finding the limits of species but also
showed unexpected results.
Besides sorting the known species, the tree predicted
at least two new bat species.
"These new species are unknown to science," says Demos.
"There was no reason to expect that we’d find two new species there."
When Patterson saw these two undescribed species, he got excited:
"It’s cool because it says there’s a chapter of evolution that no one’s
stumbled across before."
These findings are not only interesting to scientists but to the local
Organic groceries at Trader Joe’s would be next to impossible without bats.
They act as a natural pesticide, eating insects that threaten crops.
Besides farmers, local health officials also rely on bat research because
bats can be disease vectors that threaten public health.
Being able to understand bats means that scientists can protect public health
and plates of food.
This unexpected finding attests to the diversity of life in Kenya and other
tropical locales in Africa.
The variety of species in these regions is not yet described because:
is understudied, and its biodiversity is underestimated, and it’s critical
because there are threats to its biodiversity," says Demos.
This research gives a framework for future scientists to categorize species
of bats and describe new species.
In the United States, because our bats are well researched, there is an app
that can recognize bat calls, kind of like Shazam for bats.
Patterson plays bat sounds off his phone:
"I recorded this in my driveway and an app was able to identify the bat.
"This is what we want to be able to do in the field someday."
The next step in this research is using the genetic analysis of
Scotophilus bats as a framework that allows scientists to categorize and
eventually recognize species based on observable features, such as the chirps,
squeaks, and sounds human ears can’t hear.
Demos notes that it is important to better understand these mysterious flying
mammals to help conservation and local farming efforts.
This study surveying Kenya paves the way for exploring other regions using
the same methods.
Science has brought us closer to understanding how bat species relate to one
another, but Patterson says there is still more to discover:
"No interesting biological questions are ever fully answered, and progress
towards answering them invariably opens up a variety of others."
There are numerous species of Yellow Bats in Africa and around the world.
The African Yellow (House) Bat (Scotophilus dinganii) has a range in
sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal and the Gambia in the west to Ethiopia in
the east, south to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Currently there is no
recording of this bat’s population.
Scotophilus is a genus of vespertilionid bats commonly called
African Yellow (House) Bat (Scotophilus dinganii) has sub-Saharan range