By Venessa Anthony
A team of local and foreign researchers led by Tharaka Kusuminda, a young biologist engaged in bat studies, in Sri Lanka, has managed to discover a new bat species living in Sri Lanka and India. This bat is scientifically named Miniopterus phillipsi, and informally, Phillip’s long-fingered bat.
In conversation with The Morning Brunch, Kusuminda explained that this marks the first discovery after eight decades of a new species of Miniopterus bat in Sri Lanka and India. “It is also the first time that a new bat species of this genus has been discovered in Asia after six decades,” he adding, explaining that animal specimens related to this new species of bat have been found from Sri Lanka and India before, but were identified as a different species of bat.
The morphological and genetic data of this species of bat has been used for this research, which was conducted under the initiative of Kusuminda, a PhD candidate at the University of Ruhuna. There, they discovered that previously, these bats were mistakenly identified as the species Miniopterus fuliginosus. But, Kusuminda told us, that the researchers pointed out that the species is spread only in the temperate climates of South Asia, and the countries of the Southeast Asian region.
“This is the second time that genetic technology has been used to confirm the taxonomic status of a bat species in Sri Lanka, but it is very sad that the scarce use of this technology has been the main reason why the real species-diversity of bats living in our country has not been properly revealed for decades,” according to Kusuminda.
This species of bat was named in honour of English scientist, W.W.A. Phillips. When talking about how it was ascertained that they had discovered a new species, Kusuminda explained that animal specimens collected from several places in Sri Lanka, alongside a large number of animal specimens deposited in various museums of the world, was used for this research. “Specimens of this new species have been found near the Bio Tea Garden Tea Estate located in Idalgashinna area, and additional specimens have been found in the Aranayaka Sandaraja Forest, Thalawakele, Wellawaya Vaul Galge Cave, and Waulpane Limestone Cave,” he informed us.
Kusuminda also informed us that this species of bat shows a general distribution in wet and intermediate environmental zones in our country, and has been reported in several places in the dry zone. “But this species of bats chooses only rock caves and similar places as their day roosts, which is a matter of more concern in their conservation activities,” he added.
The destruction of ecosystems under the guise of informal development projects in our country is a major threat to these species, as well as many other species of wildlife, and Kusuminda specifically highlighted that the destruction of large rocks that provide this bat species with habitats – in the process of mining granite stones – will directly affect its survival in the future.
“Even though we just discovered this species, it might go extinct soon if we do not take the necessary measures to protect its habitat,” he warned.