The Mortlock Islands flying fox, a large, breadfruit-eating bat native to a few remote and tiny Pacific islands, has long been regarded as one of the world's least studied bats. For more than 140 years nearly all that scientists knew about this animal was derived from one lonely specimen preserved in a jar of alcohol in the Natural History Museum, London.
Today, in a paper in the open access journal ZooKeys, a team of bat biologists led by Don Buden of the College of Micronesia published a wealth of new information on this "forgotten" species, including the first detailed observations of wild populations.
And it is none too soon, says paper co-author Kristofer Helgen of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, as the low-lying atolls this bat calls home are likely to be increasingly affected by rising ocean waters brought on by climate change.
"Very little is known about many of the mammals that live on remote Pacific islands, including this beautiful flying fox," Helgen said. "This study gives us our first close look at a remarkable bat."
The lone London specimen was collected in 1870 from the Mortlock Islands, a series of atolls that are part of the Federated States of Micronesia in the west-central Pacific Ocean. British biologist Oldfield Thomas used this specimen to name the species Pteropus phaeocephalus in 1882. But during a recent study of the bat, Buden discovered that a German naturalist voyaging on a Russian expedition had observed and named the animal some 50 years earlier.
"We found a report written by F.H. Kittlitz in 1836 describing his expedition to the Pacific Islands in the late 1820s. In that report he describes the flying-foxes of the Mortlocks and names them Pteropus pelagicus," Buden said. "This means the species was named long before Thomas's description in 1882."
According to internationally established rules for naming animals, the earliest availab
|Contact: Kelly Carnes|