Two lemon-yellow species of bats discovered in Africa. And they are cute, fluffy balls.

Who’s a fuzzy, yellow sky pup? THIS GUY. Credit: Copyright P. W. Webala, Maasai Mara University

Two new species of bats recently discovered in Kenya are endearing, lemon-colored fuzzballs. But scientists are not interested in these bats only for their flashy colors; the animals also provide important clues about some very tangled branches in the bat family tree.

Bats in the genus Scotophilus (skuh-TOE-fill-us), also known as African yellow house bats, live close to people, usually nesting in the eaves and the ridge of the home. Scientists discovered the first Scotophilus species, almost 200 years ago and since then, 21 species have been described in Africa and Southeast Asia, with 13 species from the African continent, but the number of the African species can be as high as 15, researchers reported in a new study. [Flying Mammals: Gallery of Spooky Bats]

And they are not all dressed in yellow; these insect-eating bats, which can weigh up to 3 ounces (85 grams), have bellies tinted in a range of colors, from white to brown to orange-gold, study co-author Bruce Patterson, MacArthur curator of mammals at the Field Museum of Natural History (TWO) in Chicago, told Science.

But because several of the Scotophilus species can look very much alike, to determine where the different species are found and how many species inhabit a given region is difficult, lead study author Terrence Demos, a postdoctoral researcher with BOTH the Integrative Research Center, told Science in an e-mail.

To complicate the matters even further, some of the known bat species were given scientific names, despite the incomplete analysis, and other types of receiving duplicate names, Patterson explained.

The researchers gathered the DNA of the skin samples taken from bats in Kenya, the use of their data to organize the known species and subspecies (populations that are genetically similar, but in remote areas). In addition to unraveling some of the knotty relationships between African yellow house bats, their analysis uncovered two hitherto unknown species, the authors wrote in the study.

On the basis of their discoveries about this diverse, understudied group, further DNA research in a broader sample of bats may reveal more new species of yellow house bats spread across the continent, Demos added.

The findings are published online July 11 in the journal Frontiers in Evolution and Ecology.

Original article on Live Science.


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