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The very unexpected bat

In a series of events that sounds like an Edward Gorey tale, a new species of bat has been discovered by surprise and named accordingly.

L. inexpectata (top) and L. mordax (bottom). Dr Ricardo Moratelli

The discovery of new species isn't always a dramatic event that unveils an animal unlike any we've ever seen before -- but sometimes it can be something of a surprise.

This was the case with a newly discovered species of Brazilian Lonchophyllabat that had apparently been hiding in plain sight for a century. Its discovery among museum specimens of a different type of bat was so unexpected that it has been named for it: Lonchophylla inexpectata.

In this specimen of L. inexpectata collected in 1908, you can see its fluffy belly (right) is paler than its back (left). Dr Ricardo Moratelli

The discovery was made by biologist Ricardo Moratelli of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and zoologist Daniela Dias of the Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, Brazil. The pair were researching the Lonchophylla genus, studying museum specimens of the bats when they noticed that some bats labelled Lonchophylla mordax were a little different.

Most notably, their fluffy bellies had paler fur, they were smaller, their skulls were a little smaller and shaped slightly differently and their teeth were shaped differently.

The funny thing about the story is that L. mordax had first been described in 1903, and at least one of the L. inexpectata specimens had been collected in 1908, and had been sitting in the Smithsonian all that time, mislabelled as L. dekeyseri.

The researchers examined specimens from all currently recognised Brazilian Lonchophylla specimens and determined that what had been supposed a mere colour variation was, in fact, an identifying characteristic of L. inexpectata.

You can read about the new discovery in the open-access journal Zookeys.