The fruit bat formerly known as Yoda has found its forever name. Scientists christened the happy tube-nosed fruit bat in the Records of the Australian Museum.
The genus Nyctimene comprises 18 species, all of which live in Oceania and southeast Asia. They’ve got bright fur and faces, and noticeable spots on their wings. They will do just about anything for a mushy piece of fruit.
The family tree is no stranger to memorable common names, with cousins like N. draconilla, the dragon tube-nosed bat, and N. masalai, the demonic tube-nosed bat.
But wacky names aside, it would be hard to spot the dragon or the demon amid a lineup of other Nyctimene species.
“Bat species often look similar to each other,” biologist and co-author Nancy Irwin of York University said in a statement, “but differ significantly in behavior, feeding, and history.”
The newest member of the family showed its smiling little face during a field survey of Papua New Guinea in the late 1990s. Surveyors brought the bat to Irwin, who suspected it was a separate species. For its wrinkly ears and sage but goofy smile, she nicknamed the bat Yoda.
To confirm that they did, in fact, have a new species on their hands, Irwin and her colleagues combed through the scientific literature and museum collections. They examined nearly 3000 bat specimens from 18 museums.
Many years and many, many research hours later, Irwin and her colleagues can confidently say the Yoda bat is a species unto itself. But they won’t call it Yoda anymore—since, as Irwin points out, most local Papuans have never seen the Star Wars movies, and the word "Yoda" means nothing to them.
She went with Hamamas (a local word for happy) instead. Its full name is the Hamamas tube-nosed fruit bat, Nyctimene wrightae sp. nov. (new species). The species name was chosen in honor of conservationist and scientist Deb Wright, who spent two decades exploring and protecting Papua New Guinea wildlife.
“Until a species is recognized and has a name,” Irwin says, “it becomes difficult to recognize the riches of biodiversity and devise management. Fruit bats are crucial to rainforest health, pollinating and dispersing many tree species, therefore it is essential we know what is there and how we can protect it, for our own benefit.”