Jake Esselstyn's phone rings a lot these days, thanks to a new species of bat he discovered in the Philippines.
"I guess I'm getting my 15 minutes of fame," the 33-year-old Kansas University graduate student said with a chuckle recently as he sat in his Dyche Hall office.
Esselstyn's discovery has been named the "flying fox bat" because its head looks like that of, well, a tiny fox. It is a type of fruit bat, he said. It has orange fur and white stripes on the front of its head.
Esselstyn found the bat in 2006 during a research trip on the Philippines' Mindoro island. He was with a Filipino scientist, looking for bats and shrews. Shrews are 2- or 3-inch long mammals with pointy snouts.
But the fox bat that became trapped in a net garnered the most attention. Esselstyn spent the past year studying the bat specimen and comparing it to others before going public about the discovery. He wrote an article about it, which recently appeared in the "Journal of Mammalogy." The Filipino government also made a public announcement about the bat, and there were stories in that country's newspapers.
In the United States, other media also have contacted Esselstyn. A short story appeared in the online "National Geographic News." Next week, Time magazine's "Time for Kids" plans to do an interview, he said.
The publicity surprised Esselstyn, an Oregon native who is working on his doctorate in biology. New species of animals, usually small lizards and frogs, are discovered frequently and get little mainstream media publicity, he said.
"I think this one has gotten so much press because it is so good looking," Esselstyn said. "Most new specimens of mammals are small, brown-looking things that don't attract much attention."
A total of four specimens of the bat were eventually obtained and are kept in a preservative at KU. Two of the specimens will be returned to the Philippines and go to the National Museum in Manila, Esselstyn said.
Esselstyn returned to Mindoro earlier this year but did not find any more of the fox bats. He thinks there are more of them and there could be some in other areas of Asia.
While the fox bat wasn't known to the scientific world, Mindoro residents had seen them. One local guide described the unusual bat to Esselstyn. Esselstyn said he remained skeptical until he saw the bat in the net, which had been set up to catch specimens.
"He was very close on the description," Esselstyn said of the guide. "As soon as we saw it, we knew it was what he was talking about."