Categorised in: Science
The newfound bat species was about three times the size of an average modern-day bat and the biggest burrowing bat yet known
Researchers have unearthed fossil remains of a giant burrowing bat that lived in New Zealand millions of years ago.
The fossil remains consist of teeth and bones and were recovered from 19 to 16-million-year-old sediments near a town in Central Otago. Based on fossil evidence, researchers estimate that the extinct bat weighed around 40 grams and was three times the size of an average bat today. That makes it the biggest burrowing bat yet known.
Burrowing bats are a special group of mammals that are only found in New Zealand. Unlike other bats, burrowing bats not only fly, but crawl along the ground too and feed on both animal and plant food. The new species also falls in the same category and has been named Vulcanops jennyworthyae after a research team member who found the fossils. This is also the first new bat genus to be added to New Zealand’s fauna in more than 150 years.
The discovery of new burrowing bat species provides more insight into the ecological diversity of bat fauna in New Zealand.
“Burrowing bats are more closely related to bats living in South America than to others in the southwest Pacific. They are related to vampire bats ghost-faced bats, fishing and frog-eating bats, and nectar-feeding bats, and belong to a bat superfamily that once spanned the southern landmasses of Australia, New Zealand, South America and possibly Antarctica,” said study first author Professor Sue Hand from University of New South Wales.
“New Zealand’s burrowing bats are also renowned for their extremely broad diet. They eat insects and other invertebrates such as weta and spiders, which they catch on the wing or chase by foot. And they also regularly consume fruit, flowers and nectar. However, Vulcanops’s specialized teeth and large size suggest it had a different diet, capable of eating even more plant food as well as small vertebrates – a diet more like some of its South American cousins. We don’t see this in Australasian bats today.”
The species died off sometime after the early Miocene and researchers suspect that colder and drier conditions of New Zealand brought by climate change drove them to the extinction.