Hawaii was hardly an evolutionary stage with only a couple of species of mammals to have gone through the evolutionary cycle on the island, but an ironically instinct bat seems to also get that distinction according to new research and fossil find.
The hoary bat – Hawaii’s didn’t see much mammalian evolution
While there is little in the way of irony when speaking of extinct animals, the introduction of humans to the islands was devastating to life of all sorts on the islands. A fossil found in 1981 inside a lave tube on Maui, has led researchers to conclude that while most animals came from elsewhere, a new native of the island state has now been discovered based on the fossil find.
Bats vanished from the islands once humans arrived, but it turns out that the hoary bat is now to be joined by synemporion keana making the two the only real land-based mammals to have evolved on the islands. While the monk seal evolved on Hawaii, it doesn’t spend as much time on land as the pair of bat species.
“The Hawaiian Islands are a long way from anywhere, and as a result, they have a very unique fauna—its native animals apparently got there originally by flying or swimming,” said Nancy Simmons, a co-author on the paper recently published on the website of the American Museum of Natural History. Simmons is also the curator-in-charge of the same museum’s Department of Mammology.
“Besides the animals that humans have introduced to the islands, like rats and pigs, the only mammals that we’ve known to be native to Hawaii are a monk seal, which is primarily aquatic, and the hoary bat. So finding that there actually was a different bat—a second native land mammal for the islands—living there for such a long period of time was quite a surprise,” she added.
Additional specimens of the bat were found on the islands of Kauia, Molokai and Oahu following the original Maui find.
Continued work of a mammalogist passed away in 2003
The research by Simmons and others was a continuation of a mammalogist work following their passing thirteen years ago.
The group believes that this bat goes back about 320,000 years but when extinct a bit over a millennium ago.
“This extinct bat really is something new, not just a slight variation on a theme of a known genus,” Simmons said.
“The new bat contains a mosaic of features from taxa seen on many different continents. At some point, their ancestors flew to Hawaii, but we can’t tell if they came from North America, Asia, or the Pacific Islands—they really could have come from anywhere based on what we know now.”
The group plans to continue the study of this bat that likely simply took a wrong turn somewhere in order to reach the islands. The further study of the mammal should give the researchers a better understanding of where this species truly came from and what happened to it. What would cause its extinction only 1100 years ago will certainly be looked at but humans are the likely culprits.
“It seems possible that the reduction of native forests and associated insects after human colonization of the islands contributed not just to the extinction of plants, birds, and invertebrates, but also to the extinction of this endemic bat,” Howarth said.
Fitting that on the day that Batman V. Superman will see people flocking to theaters, a new extinct bat comes to light.