Science

Giant burrowing bat which lived in prehistoric New Zealand discovered

Giant burrowing bat which lived in prehistoric New Zealand discovered”

Even at this modest weight, it's the biggest burrowing bat that we know of.

"This new bat was a relative of New Zealand's peculiar short-tailed bats, extinct Australian species, and the Americas' vampire bats, suggesting that ground-dwelling forms of bat were more common in the past".

The fossilized remains of a giant burrowing bat that lived in New Zealand millions of years ago have been found by a UNSW Sydney-led global team of scientists.

The bat has been named Vulcanops jennyworthyae, after team member Jenny Worthy who found the bat fossils, and after Vulcan, the mythological Roman god of fire and volcanoes, in reference to New Zealand's tectonic nature, but also to the historic Vulcan Hotel in the mining town St Bathans.

Burrowing bats not only fly but also scurry about on all fours.

Researchers have found the fossilized remains of a 19 million year old burrowing bat in New Zealand.

If it was anything like today's burrowing bats, Vulcanops j. must have had a broad diet comprising of both plants and animals.

Modern-day Australasian burrowing bats enjoy a wide selection of foods, including insects, fruits, and flowers. 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.

Weighing in at 40g, the bat named Vulcanops JennyWorthyae, is around three times the size of bats now living in New Zealand. Perhaps it also munched on small vertebrates.

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Professor Sue Hand, Director of the PANGEA Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, who led the research, said: "Burrowing bats are more closely related to bats living in South America than to others in the southwest Pacific".

The possibility of this prehistoric bat living in the Antarctic region arrives from the fact that about 50 million years prior to the separation of the continents, Antarctica was a part of Gondwana. Global temperatures were up to 12°C higher than today and a forested Antarctica was frost-free.

With subsequent fragmentation of Gondwana, cooling climates and the growth of ice-sheets in Antarctica, the report said Australasia´s burrowing bats became isolated from their South American relatives.

Washing of St Bathans sediments through sieves in Manuherikia River in New Zealand to collect fossil bones and teeth of an ancient burrowing bat.

Vulcanops became extinct, along with many other animal species in New Zealand, sometime in the early Miocene period (between 23 and 15 million years ago), probably due to the cooling and drying climate.

Professor Schofield said they have been working at the fossil site for 17 years and among the discoveries found was a crocodile up to 3m long, tropical bird's such as flamingos, species of terrestrial turtles and a waddling mouse-type mammal. The findings related to the fossilized remains of the bat were jotted down in the journal Scientific Reports.

There are now just two bat species left on the island - which incidentally are the only native land mammal species in the country.

Dr Robin Beck, lecturer in biology at Salford and formerly of UNSW, said: "This unusual fossil bat is very different from the bats living in New Zealand today, and shows that we are missing a huge amount of their evolutionary history - I think we can expect a lot more surprises from this fossil site in future". All other land mammals were introduced from overseas over the last 800 years.



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