A golden bat recently discovered in Bolivia has joined the ranks of nature’s richly gilded creatures.
The newly described Myotis midastactus is named after Midas, the king of Greek legend who turned everything he touched to gold. (See National Geographic’s pictures of nature in yellow.)
Despite its yellow coloring, the bat was previously mistaken for another non-golden species in the same genus, according to a study published in the July 2014 edition of the Journal of Mammalogy.
The discovery was made after comparing specimens from museum collections in a study led by Ricardo Moratelli, a wildlife biologist at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fundação Oswaldo Cruz) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Thought to be confined to central Bolivia’s tropical savanna region, M. midastactus’s “peculiar and distinctive fur color” is a puzzle, Moratelli admitted.
“Apparently it isn’t related to camouflage, because two other species of Myotis that occur in the same area are consistently darker and use similar [daytime] roosts,” he said. (Also see “To Know Bats Is to Love Them.”)
Another, unrelated South American bat, Noctilio albiventris, does however share the newfound bat’s coloration. Since both species eat colorful insects, their diet may influence their striking appearance, Moratelli added.
Here are more animals that dazzle us with their golden splendor:
Golden Lion Tamarin
Destruction of its coastal rain forest habitat in eastern Brazil has made the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) a familiar zoo refugee. Efforts to reintroduce the animal—listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature—into the wild have been successful.
Named for a lustrous, lionlike mane that frames its dark, impish face, the golden lion tamarin may get its color from exposure to tropical sunlight and a liking for foods rich in carotenoid, a pigment responsible for yellow colors in nature.
Golden Poison Dart Frog
Another South American resident, the golden poison dart frog (Phyllobates terribilis) gleams luridly as a warning to predators. The amphibian’s skin contains potent alkaloid toxins that target nerve cells, causing heart and respiratory failure.
Where the frog collects the ingredients for its lethal toxin is unknown, though scientists suspect that a prey beetle from the Melyridae family may be responsible.
Scientists have found that this beetle’s precious-metal appearance is produced by the unique structural arrangement of layers of a chitin, a hard substance that makes up the insect’s exoskeleton. (Learn more about scarabs.)
These layers, which are of decreasing thickness, bend and reflect incoming light in a way that creates a jewel-like illusion. Ironically, researchers believe this shimmering effect helps the scarab to evade detection in its rain-drenched tropical habitat.
Fish are particularly blessed with the “Midas touch,” from the freshwater golden dorado (Salminus brasiliensis)—not to be confused with the equally dazzling saltwater dorado, or mahi-mahi (Coryphaena hippurus)—to the California golden trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita). And, not least, the family goldfish.
A source of fascination to anglers and aquarium owners alike, the metallic sheen of fish scales is down to a crystalline pigment in the underlying skin which reflects light and cloaks the fish from predators. (Also see “Beautiful, Golden Jellyfish Invading Fisher’s Nets Is a New Species.”)
In the goldfish bowl, unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to work—especially if there’s a cat lurking about.
Tell us—what golden animals have you seen?