Giant extinct burrowing bat discovered in New Zealand

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Teeth and bones of the extinct bat - which was about three times the size of an average bat today - were recovered from 16 to 19-million-year-old sediments near the town of St Bathans in Central Otago on the South Island. Behind the discovery of the bat is an global team of researchers who published their findings in Scientific Reports.

An worldwide team of scientists recovered the fossilized remains of an extinct giant burrowing bat previously unknown to science. It's common to see them foraging for animal and plant food on the forest floor and along tree branches.

According to scientists, this diverse fauna lived in or around a 5600-square-kilometre prehistoric Lake Manuherikia that once covered much of the Maniototo region of the South Island. It has been tagged as one of the largest species of burrowing bats known to mankind.

Te Papa's Alan Tennyson was part of an worldwide team of scientists from Australia, the United Kingdom and U.S. who reported the new fossil find in the journal Scientific Reports. Vulcan is derived from a mythological Roman god of fire and volcanos, as well as referencing a historic hotel in St. Bathans close to the site where researchers discovered the fossil. The modern counterparts of these ancient bats can be found far away in the South American continent.

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Named "Vulcanops jennyworthyae", the new species is also the first new bat genus to be added to New Zealand's fauna in more than 150 years, according to scientists. "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".

Alan Tennyson from New Zealand's National Museum Te Papa said, "This weird bat is among the most freakish of all the fossils that we've found".

"These bats, along with land turtles and crocodiles, show that major groups of animals have been lost from New Zealand", said study co-author Professor Paul Scofield of Canterbury Museum.

Many bat species are small, including the IN bats above, which each weigh roughly the same as three pennies.

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"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", researcher Robin Beck said in the statement.

"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, " said Dr. Robin Beck, a lecturer in biology at the University of Salford in the United Kingdom, in a release. All of the remains point to a bat that weighed about 40 grams and those teeth suggest it ate both the meat of small invertebrates and lots of plants. Other varieties of bats dominating this area were introduced artificially by humans to increase the diversity.

"Vulcanops jennyworthyae provides new insight into the original diversity of bats in Australasia", the paleontologists said.

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