Bats are the longest-lived mammals relative to body size, but the species known as the greater mouse-eared bat lives particularly long. 

Researchers have turned their attention to why this is, and have found hints for ageing in people, as a result, writes Reuters. They discovered that unlike in people and most other animals, in this bat species the structures called telomeres located at the end of chromosomes, thread-like strands inside a cell’s nucleus that carry genes determining heredity, do not actually shorten. 

Telomeres are protective caps at the ends of chromosomes that shorten each time a cell divides. This is the main driver behind the natural process of ageing, which eventually leads to a breakdown of cells that over time can cause deterioration and ultimately death. 

“Studying exceptionally long-living mammals that have naturally evolved mechanisms to fight ageing is an alternative way to identify the molecular basis of extended ‘health spans’,” explained biologist Emma Teeling of University College Dublin in Ireland, one of the study leaders. “Bats are an exciting new model species that will enable us to identify new molecular mechanisms that drive healthy ageing.”

For the study, the researchers studied 493 individual bats from four species: the greater mouse-eared bat and Bechstein’s bat, both members of the bat genus called Myotis; the greater horseshoe bat; and the common bent-wing bat. Out of these, the greater mouse-eared bat had the longest lifespan of around 37 years.

The greater mouse-eared bat, however and the closely related Bechstein’s bat had telomeres that did not shorten with age, suggesting that Myotis bats share this characteristic. Another Myotis bat, Brandt’s bat, holds the bat longevity record of 41 years. 

In fact, only 19 mammal species are longer-lived than humans relative to body size. Eighteen of them are bats, some living more than four decades. The other is, of course, our favourite naked mole rat. 

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