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Searching for ancient bat fossils in Colombia

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“There are over 1,450 living species of bats,” explains American Museum of Natual History Department of Mammalogy curator Nancy Simmons, on-site in Columbia‘s fossil-rich La Venta region.

“In South America, which has the highest bat diversity anywhere on the planet, you can be in a single rain forest, and there could be maybe even as many as 150 species of bats, all living in that same piece of forest around you.

“As a bat biologist, what I really want to know is, how did this diversity evolve? How did we get to the modern fauna that we have? The fossils that were discovered previously in this area are like little hints of what might be here.”

In this AMNH video, Simmons, her colleagues, and local researchers are on the hunt for microfossils in this tropical wetlands-turned-desert, a location that provides a glimpse back to life between 10 and 14 million years ago. But how?

“Microfossils are different because they’re so small that you can’t see them easily. It just looks like a tiny rock, a grain of sand. And so to find microfossils we need to use different techniques than are typically used to look for all other fossils.”

hunting for fossils
A bit like panning for gold, the team will wash bags of collected clay and soil through filtering screens, leaving behind rice grain-sized rock and fossil pieces that can be examined further.

Based on previous findings in this location, they hope and expect to find more perspective-shifting examples from early bat evolution.

microfossils up close
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