A new leaf-nosed bat

Courtesy of National Geographic, we have a new bat—Griffin ‘s leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros griffini)—discovered in Vietnam four years ago but only now described in the Journal of Mammalogy. It resembled an already-known species but was distinguished by small differences in morphology, mitochondrial DNA sequence, and frequencies of the echolocation call.

Photograph courtesy Vu Dinh Thon

Leaf-nosed bats are found in both the New and Old World, and the New World ones are the most numerous group in the order Chiroptera (bats), which itself is one of the most diverse order of mammals, second only to rodents (40% of mammal species are rodents; 20% are bats). A probably aprocryphal story relates evolutionist J. B. S. Haldane’s answer when asked what one could infer about the Creator from surveying his creation.  “An inordinate fondness for beetles,” Haldane supposedly said. (Of the roughly 1.7 million described species on Earth, 300,000-400,000 are in the order Coleoptera—beetles.) If that question were asked about mammals, one could reply that God showed an inordinate fondness for rodents and bats, and a notable distaste for primates.

The function of the “leaf” isn’t fully known, but it’s suspected to be important in receiving the echolocation signals emitted by bats.

Here’s Figure 1 from the paper:

Fig. 1. A) Lateral and B) frontal views of ear and nose leaves of Hipposideros griffini, new species (IEBR-T.200809.12, holotype). Not to scale.

You may find this beast ugly, but that’s speciesism!  I find all animals beautiful because they’re products of evolution, embodying all the mechanisms that drive the process. The ugliness, in this case, is probably a byproduct of natural selection.

Bats are often called “flying rodents,” but they’re not even close to rodents.  They are in completely different orders of mammals: Rodentia vs. Chiroptera. Here’s a phylogeny of mammalian groups based on Tree of Life data from the University of Arizona and Berkeley, which clearly shows that humans are more closely related to rodents than rodents are to bats (see also my more comprehensive post on mammalian phylogenies from last October). It’s the weekend, so you can use that bit of information as cocktail-party chat, guaranteed to stop all conversation.

Thong, V. D. et al. 2012. A new species of Hipposideros (Chiroptera: Hipposideridae) from Vietnam. J. Mammalogy 93:1-11.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1644/11-MAMM-A-073.1

30 Comments

  1. Posted February 25, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    “Bats are often called “flying rodents,” but they’re not even close to rodents.”

    I’m not a biologist, and I always thought that bats were rodents.

  2. JT
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    I always thought that rabbits were rodents. This changes everything! They sure as hell have a rodent-like look about them. Phylogeny can be very counter-intuitive.

    • ChasCPeterson
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Lagomorphs have doubled incisors and the scrotum anterior to the penis, among other differences. But they are rodent-like in many ways, hence the sister-group status and the clade GLires.

  3. Aidan Karley
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Bats are often called “flying rodents,”

    They might be in American English, but I’ve never heard the term in British English. “Flying mice”, yes, but not “flying rodents”.
    The German is, of course, “Fledermäuse”, translating closely to “flying mice”, which is anatomically fairly accurate, if not phylogenetically accurate.

    • Aidan Karley
      Posted February 25, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      (Then again, I did have family friends who were native German speakers as well as being professional naturalists (technical translators), and a father with some technical German, and a keen amateur naturalist himself ; so possibly my language is not representative.)

  4. Hempenstein
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Tangentia:

    Cool, and for party trivia, who knew that bats were so close to anteaters, or that shrews were so distant from elephant shrews? Certainly not a biochemist (all taxa look the same after they’ve been thru a Waring blender).

    But re. elephant shrews, one of their lens crystallins is an aldehyde dehydrogenase, one of the many different NAD-binding dehydrogenases of cellular metabolism that have been recruited to serve as structural lens proteins, something that should give pause to creationists using the eye as an example of creation.

    Back to the tree, cool also to see that mice/rats and chipmunks/squirrels are somewhat separated – I’ll show that to a molecular biologist colleague who routinely disdains squirrels as rats with bushy tails.

    And for a final tangential, Swedish for Rodentia is Gnagare (gnawers; the g is pronounced). I like that!

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 3:27 am | Permalink

      Who knew bats were that close to ungulates?

      Yes, I like Gnagare. :D

      • ChasCPeterson
        Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

        Indeed, this placement of bats means that there is no such thing as “ungulates”.

        • ChasCPeterson
          Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

          …but then it looks like this placement of bats is poorly supported anyway (light-blue dots).

          It’s worth remembering that all phylogenies are hypotheses, and the nature of the algorithms used often means that the topology of deeper branches is often less certain.

          (But the cocktail-party factoid is still good; the relationship of primates and glires is well supported.)

          • Diane G.
            Posted February 27, 2012 at 3:23 am | Permalink

            Now that’s a nice cladogram! Thanks. And thanks for all your input here–most enlightening.

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 27, 2012 at 3:17 am | Permalink

          I see what you mean!

          (Are we not ‘evolving’ to a new use of terms such as “ungulate,” one that refers to useful similarities among taxa that might be due to convergent evolution rather than phylogeny?)

    • ChasCPeterson
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      who knew that bats were so close to anteaters

      huh?
      they’re not close.

  5. Lighthill
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    If the structures are indeed for echolocation, that would make sense. To me, they look a lot like the structure you can see if you look inside a cat’s ear. (Protip: Make sure you use a friendly cat!)

  6. Krishan Bhattacharya
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Any info on the ridges in the ears? They are strikingly regular.

  7. yam
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Bats are often called “flying rodents,” but they’re not even close to rodents.

    Of course, everybody knows that pigeons are flying rats…

  8. metaphid
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    I know a plastics guy who could do wonders for this little fella.

  9. DV
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Somebody’s gotta ask: Could it be the leaf nose is not an adaptation, but just caused by a suboptimal mutation that got fixed by genetic drift?

    • ChasCPeterson
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      what about the millions of generations of natural selection to which the structure has been exposed since its origin?

  10. Posted February 25, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure this bat is an atheist. How can someone with a baboon’s ass instead of a nose believe in a creator?

  11. Ori
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    That bat has its naughty bits on its face! Anybody else feel guilty looking at it?

  12. Diane G.
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 3:28 am | Permalink

    Look how tiny the eye is!

  13. Kharamatha
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    “I find all animals beautiful because they’re products of evolution, embodying all the mechanisms that drive the process. The ugliness, in this case, is probably a byproduct of natural selection.”

    What double-think is this?

    • DV
      Posted February 26, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      Yeah, it is a byproduct of human evolution that we should find that bat ugly. :)

  14. Piscador
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    What I found striking is that rodents are more closely related to us than to bats.

    If anyone is interested in a great and entertaining description of how humans relate to other life on earth, you can’t go past Richard Dawkin’s excellent ‘The Ancestor’s Tale’.

  15. ChasCPeterson
    Posted February 26, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Three quibbles about the tree depicted:
    1. it doesn’t distinguish between well-supported and largely hypothetical branches.
    2. there’s only one aardvark.
    3. why are tree-squirrels and marmots subsumed under “chipmunks”? Also, a large proportion of mammalian diversity is found under ‘mice/rats/beavers’ here.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 27, 2012 at 3:08 am | Permalink

      Wow! Cool!


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