Researchers have identified four new species of horseshoe bats with large, strangely shaped noses in eastern Africa.
Scientists had thought all four belonged to a single species, Hildebrandt's horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hildebrandtii
), first described in 1878. But reports of different echolocation frequencies recorded among the bats suggested there might be rifts in the species. (Sonar calls are often used to identify different types of bats.)
Researchers led by Peter J. Taylor, of South Africa's University of Venda, found R. hildebrandtii
indeed included four cryptic species with subtle differences in their sonar calls, skull shape and DNA. Cryptic species
often cannot be distinguished by their physical features, putting the burden on genetics research to identify new creatures.
The horseshoe bat family is characterized by their intricately shaped flaps dubbed "noseleaves" around their nostrils. While most bats emit sonar from their mouths, these bats send out their echolocation signals from their noses. Previous research
showed that grooves created by the horseshoe bats' noseleaves help focus their sonar calls.