Bats and the DigiMorph Web site
How do you study the hog-nosed bat, the smallest mammal in the
world? With an adult body weight of less than a penny and a wingspan
of less than three inches, these tiny animals present a real challenge
to researchers. Dr. Nancy Simmons at the American
Museum of Natural History in New York City brought the only
hog-nosed bat specimen in the United States to the UTCT scanning
Intricate details of the skull of the tiny hog-nosed
are revealed using the CT scanner.
“It would be impossible to study the small parts of the skeleton
of small animals without CT scanning,” she says.
Simmons is studying the relationships among various types of bats,
which requires that she make skeletal comparisons. Hog-nosed bats,
native to Thailand and Myanmar, are too rare for researchers to
consider destroying the specimen for study. But even common bats
can be difficult to investigate.
“The skeletal features of bats are just too small to work
with very easily,” Simmons explains. “If you clean a
bat skeleton, you end up with things the size of a grain of sand,
things too small to handle.”
Simmons brought fluid-preserved bats to the facility. Because the
scanner can work with very small specimens, Simmons was able to
get the first clear images of the wrist bones and other critical
elements of bat skeletons. Digital imaging allows her to reconstruct
the parts for study.
The digital images of bats on the DigiMorph site have even proved
useful in unexpected ways. When a man received a bite on his foot
with two puncture marks, he suspected he might have received a bat
bite. He measured the distance between the puncture marks, then
went to the DigiMorph site to measure the distance between the fangs
of a bat common to his area. When the two distances matched, he
determined that a bat was indeed the culprit.
Evidently, the man recovered just fine from his brush with a bat.
He sent DigiMorph a thank-you note.