Delimiting one species from another can be a difficult thing for biologists to do. This is especially true when the criteria researchers use to define one species from another may not be among the same criteria used by the organisms in question to distinguish themselves from other species. This can result in hidden or cryptic species being subsumed by biologists into a common grouping. Cryptic species lumped together as a single species by morphological data can be discovered through studies of DNA.
Recently Sarah Weyandt of the University of Chicago and the Field Museum visited the Cincinnati Museum Center’s Zoology Collection to look at cryptic species in horseshoe bats from the Philippines. Horseshoe bats (family: Rhinolophidae) are insect eating bats characterized by large ears and elaborate folds of skin forming other structures around their noses called noseleaves. Biologists use these structures, along with other traits, to distinguish between one species and another. However, sometimes two different species can have very similar noseleaf patterns and be difficult to distinguish. There are two varieties of noseleaves in the Philippine bat Rhinolophus arcuatus that differ in very subtle ways (see photos of two Cincinnati Museum Center specimens illustrating these two varieties of noseleaf structure to the left). However, despite very little difference in their morphology these two varieties of bat differ considerably in their genetics, as much as either Rhinolophus arcuatus variety differs from members of another Rhinolophus species.
Sarah is delving deeper into the genetics and morphological variation of this group of bats. To those ends the Cincinnati Museum Center’s Zoology Collection provides valuable specimens for morphological studies and frozen tissue for genetic studies.