Strange New Bat Species Found in Museum Pickle Jar

Francis' woolly horseshoe bat was first collected in 1983 in Malaysian Borneo. London Natural History Museum

In 1983, researcher Charles Francis collected a bat in northeastern Borneo that was brought to London's Natural History Museum. There, it sat in a pickle jar full of alcohol for three decades.

Within the last two years, scientists happened upon it and examined the specimen. After careful work, they determined it represented a new species that hadn't been described before, and they dubbed it Francis' woolly horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus francisi), after its discoverer.

In the course of their research, the scientists also found several representatives of the species elsewhere in the wilds of southeast Asia, such as in Indonesia.

The bat specimen sat in a pickle jar in London’s Natural History Museum for three decades. London Natural History Museum

Like other horseshoe bats, this newfound creature has a large structure on its face that is shaped somewhat like a horseshoe and is used to collect and focus sound. Like other bats, Francis' bats echolocate, bouncing sounds beams off of objects to find their way around. Horseshoe bats are particularly well-adapted to hearing the faint fluttering wings of insects, upon which they prey, the museum explained in a release.

There are now 87 recognized species of horseshoe bats, with eight found since 2005. Outside of bats, it's unusual to find new mammal species, as they are generally large and noticeable, unlike insects or bacteria, for example; bats are so diverse, though, that scientists keeping discovering new ones. There are now more than 1,200 known bats, accounting for nearly a quarter of all mammal species.

The researchers took a CT scan of the bat to uncover features of its skull. London Natural History Museum

Unfortunately, deforestation is a huge problem in southeast Asia, and for its diverse populations of bats and many other organisms. Between 2001 and 2014, the rate of tree loss in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar increased by more than five times the rate of the rest of the tropics, according to a forest monitoring program called Global Forest Watch.

The bat is described in a study published in the journal Acta Chiropterologica.