Niumbaha superba
April 10, 2013

New Bat Genus In South Sudan Has Stripes Like A Badger

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

Bucknell University Associate Professor of Biology DeeAnn Reeder made a surprising discovery recently while conducting research in South Sudan.

Collaborating with Fauna & Flora International (FFI) Programme Officer Adrian Garside, her discovery led to the identification of a completely new genus of bat found while on a mission to conduct general field research and pursue conservation efforts in this remote region of Africa.

"My attention was immediately drawn to the bat's strikingly beautiful and distinct pattern of spots and stripes. It was clearly a very extraordinary animal, one that I had never seen before," recalled Reeder in a statement. "I knew the second I saw it that it was the find of a lifetime."

It wasn´t until after her return to the US that Reeder was able to determine that this new bat was actually the same found in the nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1939. The scientific name for the bat was originally Glauconycteris superba. Reeder and her colleagues were not convinced, however, that this bat fit with other bats in the genus in which it had been classified.

"After careful analysis, it is clear that it doesn't belong in the genus that it's in right now," Reeder said. "Its cranial characters, its wing characters, its size, the ears — literally everything you look at doesn't fit. It's so unique that we need to create a new genus."

This find garnered an additional $100,000 grant for Reeder from the private research foundation Woodtiger Fund in support of additional research in the field this May and in support of FFIs conservation programs.

The study, entitled “A new genus for a rare African vespertilionid bat: insights from South Sudan” was recently published in the journal ZooKeys. In it, Reeder and co-authors representing the Smithsonian Institution and the Islamic University in Uganda, placed this newly discovered bat into its own genus — Niumbaha. Translated, niumbaha means ℠rare´ or ℠unusual´ in the native Zande language of the Azande people in Western Equatoria State, where the bat was captured.

"To me, this discovery is significant because it highlights the biological importance of South Sudan and hints that this new nation has many natural wonders yet to be discovered. South Sudan is a country with much to offer and much to protect," said Matt Rice, FFI's South Sudan country director.

FFI has extensive experience working in both conflict and post-conflict regions. Their goal in South Sudan, which only secured its independence in 2011, is to help re-establish the country´s wildlife conservation sector. Additionally, the FFI is helping to rehabilitate selected protected areas through training and development of park staff and wildlife service personnel, helping to improve local roads and infrastructure, providing necessary equipment and supporting research efforts.

"Our discovery of this new genus of bat is an indicator of how diverse the area is and how much work remains," Reeder added. "Understanding and conserving biodiversity is critical in many ways. Knowing what species are present in an area allows for better management. When species are lost, ecosystem-level changes ensue. I'm convinced this area is one in which we need to continue to work."

Image 2 (below): Bucknell University Associate Professor of Biology DeeAnn Reeder (right) and Fauna & Flora International Programme Officer Adrian Garside in South Sudan with the rarely seen bat. Credit: Bucknell University