A tube-nosed fruit bat affectionately named after Star Wars’ character Yoda has been officially recognised as a new species.
The bat, discovered in a remote Papua New Guinea rainforest, was given the nickname Yoda because of its resemblance to the famed Jedi Master.
It was also re-christened the Hamamas fruit bat after the Papuan word for “happy” because of its apparent grin caused by a rounder jaw than other fruit bats.
But it has now been formally registered as a newly-identified species with the scientific name Nyctimene wrightae sp. Nov. in honour of the conservationist Dr Deb Wright who devoted 20 years of her life to conservation in Papua New Guinea.
University of York biologist Dr Nancy Irwin, whose team studied some 3,000 fruit bat specimens in 18 museums around the world, said: “Most of the morphological characteristics that separate this bat from other species are associated with a broader, rounder jaw which gives the appearance of a constant smile.
“Since most remote Papuans have never seen Star Wars, I thought it fitting to use a local name: the Hamamas – meaning happy – tube-nosed fruit bat.”
Like other members of the Nyctimene family – one of the first species of bat describes in records dating back to 1769 – the bat is characterised by its odd protruding tubular nostrils.
The bats’ tube noses, bright colours, thick stripe on the back and spots have attracted attention for some 250 years and an anonymous tube-nosed bat is depicted on a Papua New Guinea postage stamp.
But researchers are still finding new hidden species in the group.
“There were no illustrations of the cyclotis group of bats which made identifying bats really difficult,” added Dr Irwin.
“So difficult was it that Papua New Guinea produced stamps illustrating the bats but could not allocate a species name.
“Now, with photographs, illustrations and a key of the other species in the group, it makes it possible to distinguish between three species of the group.”