Million years of old Giant Bat Fossils found in New Zealand

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A group of international scientists have discovered giant bat fossils in New Zealand.
A group of international scientists have discovered giant bat fossils in New Zealand.

Otago : A UNSW Sydney-led international team of scientists found remains of a giant burrowing bat in New Zealand. The fossils are believed to be at least a million year old.

The recovered teeth and bones of the species are nearly three times bigger in size compared to the bats present in today's world. They were found in sediments near the town of St Bathans in Central Otago on the South Island.

As per report, the bat is likely to be a biggest burrowing bat yet known with an estimated weight of 40gms. It is also the first time in last 150 years, a bat species has been discovered in New Zealand.

The scientists have named the species as Vulcanops jennyworthyae, derived from the name of a 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.

The other members of the research team includes scientists from UNSW Sydney, University of Salford, Flinders University, Queensland University, Canterbury Museum, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the American Museum of Natural History, and Duke University.

“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,” says Professor Hand, who is Director of the PANGEA Research Centre at UNSW.

“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,” she says.

Study co-author, Associate Professor Trevor Worthy of Flinders University says: “The fossils of this spectacular bat and several others in the St Bathans Fauna show that the prehistoric aviary that was New Zealand also included a surprising diversity of furry critters alongside the birds.”

Study co-author Professor Paul Scofield of Canterbury Museum says: “These bats, along with land turtles and crocodiles, show that major groups of animals have been lost from New Zealand. They show that the iconic survivors of this lost fauna – the tuataras, moas, kiwi, acanthisittid wrens, and leiopelmatid frogs – evolved in a far more complex community that hitherto thought.”