Giant Bat: Remains Of Extinct Burrowing Bat Found In New Zealand

Artist’s impression of a New Zealand burrowing bat Mystacina robusta that went extinct in the 1960s. The new fossil find is an ancient relative. Illustration by Gavin Mouldey

The modern species of bats crawl by the use of its front limbs while taking off the pressure from the hind ones.

It's also a nod to St Bathans historic Vulcan Hotel.

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".

Teeth and bones of the extinct bat were recovered from 19 to 16 million-year-old sediments near the town of St Bathans in Central Otago. The findings related to the fossilized remains of the bat were jotted down in the journal Scientific Reports. It worked its way underneath leaves and into trees to look for food and build its home.

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

The prehistoric animal derives its name from the team member, Jenny Worthy, who excavated the fossilized remains of this burrowing bat. It was a burrowing bat, which means that although it flew around like others of its kind, it also walked the forest floor. The name Vulcan forming the initial half of the scientific name is taken from the Roman god of fire as well as volcanoes.

The discovery was made by a University of NSW-led global team of scientists, including from New Zealand.

"Burrowing bats are more closely related to bats living in South America than to others in the southwest Pacific", said the study's lead author Professor Sue Hand, Director of the Palaeontology, Geobiology, and Earth Archives Research Centre (PANGEA) at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, in a press release. "We do not see this in Australasian bats today", she said.

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. Post separation, the South American relatives of these burrowing bats separated from their relatives in New Zealand.

New Zealand's burrowing bats that exist today eat insects that they catch on the wing or chase by foot. While that does not sound like very much, it's practically colossal by bat standards - many species weigh just a fraction of an ounce.

The Vulcanops jennyworthyae found its source of nutrition from consumption of spiders, insects as well as weta. At the time, temperatures were up to 12degC higher than today - meaning the South Island was semi-tropical, and the region was covered in ferns and forests. Due to its large size and specialized teeth, Vulcanops j. should have been capable of eating even more plant food as well as small vertebrates - a diet more like that of its South American cousins. However, the same diet isn't found in the bats dominating Australia.

As the first new bat genus to be added to New Zealand's fauna in more than 150 years, Vulcanops provides new insight into the original diversity of bats in Australasia. Other varieties of bats dominating this area were introduced artificially by humans to increase the diversity. Above, an illustration of another species in the burrowing bat family.

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