The New Guinea big-eared bat, thought to be extinct for 120 years, has lately been re-discovered in the forests of Papua, New Guinea (PNG).
Catherine Hughes and Julie Broken-Brow, a pair of biologists from Queensland, captured a female bat on 25 July 2012. This specimen did not seem to fit the description of any known species, and the pair set out to determine if it could represent a new species. Instead, they found a type of animal that has not been seen by humans in 12 decades, Pharotis imogene.
Hughes and Broken-Brow traveled into the Cloudy Bay Forest Management Area, 125 miles southeast of Ports Moresby, New Guinea, in order to conduct a study of plants and bats. The pair was interested in how small flying mammals called microbats respond to harvested forests in the area.
Microbats are often studied by recording the echolocation sounds they use for navigation. Each species in the region use a different call, making it possible to identify species from audio recordings.
"We were attempting to collate a reference library of the echolocation calls for microbat species in this area of PNG," Hughes and Broken-Brow stated in a press release. The researchers accomplished the task by locating and trapping as many of the tiny bats as they could capture. After capturing and identifying the bats, the researchers recorded the bat calls and released the diminutive animals back into the wild.
The team set up a trap in a former coconut plantation, now a grass field at the edge of woodlands. This trap was active for only two days, when the researchers found an unusual bat in its mechanism.
At first, they thought they may have captured a small-toothed nyctophilus, also called Nyctophilus microdon. Another idea they had was they discovered a member of the genus Pharotis. This was correct, since the New Guinea big-eared bat species belong to that group. The animal was humanly euthanized and sent to the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery, located in Port Moresby. This specimen was lent to the Australian Museum in Sydney, where it was first identified as a member of the long-lost P. imogene species.
"The New Guinea Big-eared Bat Pharotis imogene has not been reported since the first and only specimens were collected in 1890 and the species was presumed extinct," the researchers wrote.
Identification of the animal as a New Guinea big-eared bat was profiled on the Australian Museum website.
Specimens euthanized in the field and sent to museums and research centers can provide invaluable data on the ecosystem and species health.