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Extinct Hawaiian Bat Joins Short List of Island Native Mammals

The animal becomes just the second bat known to be endemic to the islands.

A long-studied bat fossil has been confirmed as an entirely new species, bringing to two the count of bats known to be endemic to the Hawaiian Islands.

The newly named bat, Synemporion keana, has just been described in a new study in the journal American Museum Novitates. It joins the extant Hawaiian hoary bat on the skimpy list of bats native to Hawaii and brings to three the number of mammals endemic to the islands (the monk seal is also an island native).

It's National Bat Appreciation Day: Photos

According to the scientists, Synemporion keana was smaller than the hoary bat (the latter weighs about half an ounce, with a wingspan of about 12 inches) and first popped up in the islands fossil record about 320,000 years ago, before going extinct around 1,100 years ago.

"Finding that there actually was a different bat - a second native land mammal for the islands - living there for such a long period of time was quite a surprise," said study co-author Nancy Simmons, curator-in-charge of the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Mammalogy.

Bat Has Conveyor Belt Tongue

Calling it "really something new, not just a slight variation on an existing genus," Simmons said the extinct bat had a veritable melting pot of characteristics documented in creatures all over the world.

"The new bat contains a mosaic of features from taxa seen on many different continents," she said. "At some point, their ancestors flew to Hawaii, but we can't tell if they came from North America, Asia, or the Pacific Islands. They really could have come from anywhere based on what we know now."

VIDEO: The Amazing Link Between Bats And Dolphins

Synemporion keana was originally discovered from fossils found in a cave on Maui in 1981, with later samples turning up on Hawaii, Kauai, Molokai, and Oahu. Now, more than 30 years and much study later, the bat has been deemed a new species.

S. keana would have coexisted with the hoary bat for thousands of years, the scientists say. The reason for its extinction, though uncertain, may have come about once humans arrived on the islands.

"It seems possible that the reduction of native forests and associated insects after human colonization of the islands contributed not just to the extinction of plants, birds, and invertebrates, but also to the extinction of this endemic bat," said study co-author Francis Howarth, an entomologist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

This photo shows a skeleton of

Did you know April 17 is bat appreciation day? And why not? These flying mammals, though they look a bit scary to some people, are actually most welcome critters, for all of the good they do. Bats are terrific pollinators and seed-dispersers of hundreds of plant species, and they eat tons of insects -- enough to match their own body weight on a good night of foraging. So on this day, appreciate them we will! Let's have a look at some more of these winged wonders.

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Most bats spend their days sleeping, in preparation for their nocturnal foraging. Their slumber may look upside-down to us, but to them it's totally the way you're supposed to do it.

Why Blood Tastes Good to Vampires ... Bats, That Is

Bats love, love, love insects, but they'll also eat fruits, flower nectar, vertebrates, and -- yes, indeed -- blood.

Golden Bat From Bolivia ID'd as New Species

This female dwarf epauletted fruit bat is in a family way, at the moment. Pregnant bats usually carry just one child at a time. Once born, the moms will nurse the newbies until they're almost fully grown, as the little ones' wings need to be fully developed before they can hunt for food on their own.

Vampire Bats Suck Blood of Baby Penguins

Bat colonies roost together, and can do so in unspeakably large numbers -- in the millions, in some cases and caves.

Bat Rocks Out in Speaker-Like Roost

And when they take wing at dusk, they do that together too, in huge swarms.

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There are more than 1,200 species of bat, the vast percentage of them insectivores.

Male Bats Perform Oral Sex on Females

Bats have generally small teeth that will vary by species, but they're plenty well suited to tearing into bugs, fruit, or even skin if the bat is among the small group of species that dines on vertebrates such as frogs or birds.

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Bats' wings are a lot thinner than those of birds, which helps them move fast, with incredible precision. Of course their thinness makes them fragile and susceptible to tearing. But if the tears aren't too large, they heal quickly.

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Sadly, bats today are experiencing a health emergency that first came to light in 2006. In large numbers, they're being decimated by a condition called white-nose syndrome, a fungus that grows on the muzzles, ears, and wings and is fatal nearly 100 percent of the time. This northern long-eared bat in Illinois is affected by white-nose syndrome. While there has been some

encouraging research

into treatments, there is as yet no cure for the disease. Here's hoping one arrives soon, because we need bats!

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