Volume 39
Issue 1

Dr. Nancy Simmons and her colleagues maintain a list of more than 1,400 worldwide bat species

Dr. Nancy Simmons works for the American Museum of Natural History, where she is curator-in-charge for the Department of Mammalogy and professor at Richard Gilder Graduate School. Along with Dr. Andrea Cirranello, she maintains BatNames.org, which is a list of every bat species on Earth. When Dr. Simmons began maintaining the list in 1998, it was paper-based and contained 925 species. Today, the digital list includes 1,419 species, and it is still growing. Her principal research interest is bat diversity and evolution, and she joined BCIs Board of Directors in 2019.

Bats: Tell us about the mammal collection at the American Museum of Natural History.

Simmons: We have roughly 280,000 mammal specimens here that have been collected over the last 100 years, including some from parts of the world that have since been paved over or turned into cropland. This includes a collection of more than 60,000 bats from all over the world. We have bats collected by Teddy Roosevelt. Theres a large historical component, but we also have samples of wing punches of bats collected only a few months ago and an archive of genetic samples. Its like a library of biological samples preserved for scientific research.

Bats: What is the Bat List?

Simmons: Scientists have been interested in cataloging the diversity of life for hundreds of years. The Bat List began in the 1980s as a chapter published in a volume called Mammal Species of the World. For each bat species, it provided information of interest to scientists and conservation managers: common name, scientific name, author of that name, geographic distribution, conservation status, general comments, and what other names were associated with the species in the past.

Bats: How did the Bat List transition online?

Simmons: Having it available only on paper was a source of frustration over the years. Almost every month that goes by, new bat species are discovered or we find that one of the names thought to be a junior synonym actually applies to a different species. Andrea and I decided to start the list online, updated regularly, instead of waiting 10 years for a new book to come out.

Bats: Do you have a favorite bat?

Simmons: I do not have a favorite bat. There are some species of bats that are really hard to tell apart. As someone who is interested in species limits, I find those frustrating but also intriguing. In general, bats I like best are big-eared bats, frog-eating bats, and omnivorous bats, which I find quite charming.

Bats: What fascinates you the most about bats?

Simmons: Their diversity. There are so many different kinds, and they are the most ecologically diverse group of mammals on the planet.