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Washington Post Features

May 1, 2013

Discovering a bat that's in a league of its own

Researchers in the grasslands of South Sudan were taken by surprise when they first spotted a beautifully patterned bat with pale yellow spots and stripes on dark black fur.

DeeAnn Reeder, an associate professor of biology at Bucknell University, and Adrian Garside, a program officer from the conservation group Fauna & Flora International, were working in Bangangai Game Reserve with South Sudan's Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism. One evening, while observing bats on rocky grassland next to a stagnant pool, Reeder spied the creature.

"My attention was immediately drawn to the bat's strikingly beautiful and distinct pattern of spots and stripes. It was clearly a very extraordinary animal, one that I had never seen before. I knew the second I saw it that it was the find of a lifetime," she says.

After returning to the United States, Reeder found that museums apparently had a few specimens of the same sort of bat, which had been placed in a genus found in sub-Saharan Africa.

But the bat she had spotted, with its elongated skull and beautiful striped pattern, was much larger than those in that genus. Reeder and her colleagues decided the specimen belonged in a genus of its own and have named it Niumbaha superba.

"Niumbaha" means "rare" or "unusual" in Zande, the language of the Azande people of South Sudan, who live near where the specimen was collected.

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