52 Million Year Old Fossil Reveals a New Bat Species

A team of scientists found a new bat species thanks to the fossil found, making it the oldest skeleton ever discovered.

Gabriela Castillo

A fossil can reveal lots of information when studied. A team of scientists from the United States and the Netherlands discovered a new bat species thanks to a skeleton of that animal found near Kemmerer, Wyoming, in the United States, in the Green River Formation. This skeleton is approximately 52 million years old and is, so far, the oldest ever recovered.

The findings were made public in a study published in the journal Plos One, which details that the fossil is 1.5 inches long, the place where it was found, as well as the trace they already had of other species, which according to the research, does not match any of them. That’s why they determined that it was a new species that had not been discovered until now.

This new species was named Icaronycteris gunnelli (I. gunnelli), in honor of a paleontologist from the University of Ducke, who passed away in 2017, named Gregg Gunnell. He is remembered for his contributions to the understanding of fossil bats and evolution.

What Is the Importance of Finding the Remains of the Bat?

The extinct I. gunelli lived in Wyoming 52 million years ago, and according to scientists, the species diversified rapidly on multiple continents. The Green River Formation comprises parts of Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah, and more than 30 bat fossils have been found within this formation over the last 60 years. Previously, it was thought that these fossils belonged to two extinct species, Icaronycteris index and Onychonycteris finneyi, until they found this fossil and determined that it belonged to a new species.

“Bats from the Eocene Green River Formation have been known since the 1960s. But curiously, most of the specimens that have come out of that formation were identified as representatives of a single species, Icaronycteris index, until about 20 years ago when a second bat species belonging to another genus was discovered,” said study co-author Nancy Simmons, curator in charge of the Department of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH).

Fósil de 52 millones de años revela nueva especie de murciélago y pistas sobre su evolución

This fossil recovered in the Green River Formation is the oldest, but according to scientists, it is not the most primitive, which means that they are not the first in the bat’s evolutionary tree. The discovery will help scientists complete the irregular fossil record of these flying mammals and provide new clues about how they evolved. “This is a step forward in understanding what happened in terms of evolution and diversity in the early days of bats,” said Simmons.

Story originally written in Spanish by Lizbeth García in Cultura Colectiva News.