Ancient burrowing bat uncovered in New Zealand

Researchers have uncovered the remains of one of the largest burrowing bats to ever live.
By Joseph Scalise | Jan 12, 2018
Fossils discovered by researchers at the University of Salford are from an ancient burrowing bat that lived millions of years ago in what is now New Zealand, according to a new study inScientific Reports.

The team described the newly discovered species based on teeth and bone samples that were unearthed on the island. Such remains revealed that the creature was an ancient burrowing bat that feasted on both small invertebrates and plants.

The ancient species -- known as Vulcanops jennyworthyae -- weighed 1.5 ounces. Though that does not sound big, it is large compared to modern species. Despite common perceptions, most bats weight just a fraction of an ounce, and the lightest weighs less than a penny.

Scientists found the species was roughly three times the average bat weight and lived between 16 million and 19 million years ago. While it could fly, the mammal also walked on the forest floor and built its home under leaves and in trees.

V. jennyworthyaeis the first new bat genus to be added to New Zealand's fauna in more than 150 years. It also holds clues about the evolution of ancient bats in the area and shows that New Zealand's ecological diversity dropped during the Miocene period, which ranged from 23 million to 5 million years ago.

"After the middle Miocene, global climate change brought colder and drier conditions to New Zealand, with significant changes to vegetation and palaeoenvironments," the authors wrote in the study, according to International Business Times. "It is possible that this general cooling and drying trend also drove extinction of the Vulcanops lineage" and reduced bats' biodiversity."

Burrowing bats used to exist on the once-connected landmasses of the Southern Hemisphere, including in Australia, South America, and Antarctica. Today, they are only found in New Zealand. As a result, there is a gap in the fossil record that researchers hope further evidence will be able to fill.

"[Its] specialised teeth and large size suggest it had a different diet, capable of eating even more plant food as well as small vertebrates - more like some of its South American cousins," said lead author Sue Hand, a professor at the University of New South Wales, according toBBC News. "We don't see this in Australasian bats today."

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