Prehistoric burrowing bat unearthed in Central Otago

Prehistoric burrowing bat unearthed in Central Otago

It also represents the first new bat genus to be added to New Zealand's fauna in more than 150 years.

The remains, recovered from 19- to 16-million-year-old sediments, included teeth and bones of the pre-historic bat that was apparently about three times bigger than an average bat today.

But some of them, such as the appropriately named burrowing bat, can display a relatively out-of-character behavior: walking on all fours.

A team of worldwide scientists has discovered fossilised remains of a giant burrowing bat that lived in New Zealand millions of years ago.

Study co-author Paul Schofield, from Canterbury Museum, said a full specimen of Vulcanops JennyWorthae was yet to be found, but the teeth have indicated the type of diet it would have eaten was closer to bats now living in South America, rather than those residing in New Zealand. It probably went extinct after the early Miocene (a geologic epoch that started about 23 million years ago and ended about 5.33 million years ago), like other extinct species found in the same location.

Burrowing bats are only found now in New Zealand, but they once also lived in Australia.

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Approximately 50 million years ago these areas were all part of the southern supercontinent Gondwana. Post separation, the South American relatives of these burrowing bats separated from their relatives in New Zealand.

Global temperatures were up to 12 degrees Celsius higher than today and Antarctica was forested and frost-free. But with the fragmentation of the land masses, cooling climates and the growth of ice sheets in Antarctica, Australasia's burrowing bats became isolated from their South American relatives.

Alan Tennyson, Te Papa's Curator Vertebrates says: "The St Bathans Fauna has produced many remarkable fossils since we began our excavations there 16 years ago but this weird bat is among the most freakish of all the fossils that we've found". Other team members include scientists from UNSW Sydney, University of Salford, Flinders University, Queensland University, Canterbury Museum, the American Museum of Natural History and Duke University.

'New Zealand's burrowing bats are also renowned for their extremely broad diet.

New Zealand's burrowing bats that exist today eat insects that they catch on the wing or chase by foot. "And they also regularly consume fruit, flowers and nectar", Professor Hand said.

A newly discovered extinct bat from New Zealand was huge, had a broad diet, and was able to fly through the air as well as burrow into the ground. However, the same diet isn't found in the bats dominating Australia. The bats used their specialized set of huge teeth to consume both plant material as well as smaller version of vertebrates which is strikingly similar to its modern cousins in South America. The Vulcanops jennyworthyae once resided in the forest of Lake Manuherikia which is a prehistoric water body that could be found over the Maniototo region located on the South Island of New Zealand. However, a recent excavation near a town named St. Bathans located in New Zealand landed the scientists with a bat that was massive in bone size with the ability to walk on all four. All other modern land mammals in New Zealand have been introduced by people within the last 800 years.

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