The Vulcanops jennyworthyae once resided in the forest of Lake Manuherikia which is a prehistoric water body that could be found over the Maniototo region located on the South Island of New Zealand.
An artist's impression of the New Zealand greater short-tailed, or burrowing, bat (Mystacina robusta) that went extinct last century.
At about three times the size of an average bat, with an estimated weight of 40 grams, the new fossil bat was the biggest burrowing bat yet known.
The discovery was made by a University of NSW-led worldwide team of scientists, including from New Zealand. Image credit: Gavin Mouldey. "This new bat was a relative of New Zealand's peculiar short-tailed bats, extinct Australian species, and the Americas' vampire bats, suggesting that ground-dwelling forms of bat were more common in the past".
The bat, which weighed around 40g (1.41oz), not only flew but also scurried about on all fours looking for food.
"Burrowing bats are more closely related to bats living in South America than to others in the southwest Pacific", says study first author and University of New South Wales Professor Sue Hand. Flaunting a mass of just 40 grams, the bat housed a set of teeth as well as bones that were nearly three times larger in comparison any average modern bat.
Weighing in at 40g, the bat named Vulcanops JennyWorthyae, is around three times the size of bats now living in New Zealand. Burrowing bats commonly chase down insects and other invertebrates like weta and spiders, but also consume fruit, flowers, and nectar.
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Study co-author Paul Schofield, from Canterbury Museum, said a full specimen of Vulcanops JennyWorthae was yet to be found, but the teeth have indicated the type of diet it would have eaten was closer to bats now living in South America, rather than those residing in New Zealand. "We don't see this in Australasian bats today".
The new bat is named Vulcanops jennyworthyae 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, centre of the mining town St Bathans, and team member Jenny Worthy who found the bat fossils.
The bat fossils are now located in New South Wales, but the bones and teeth will be returned to New Zealand and shared between Canterbury Museum and Te Papa.
"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". At that time, New Zealand was a "semitropical to warm-temperate" rainforest, the study notes.
The fossil remains of this prehistoric bat dated back to a time period starting from 16-19 million years.
"Its lineage became extinct sometime after the Early Miocene, as did a number of other lineages present in the St Bathans assemblage". Numerous species couldn't adapt, including crocodiles, terrestrial turtles, flamingo-like palaelodids, swiftlets, several pigeon, and non-flying mammals.
"After the middle Miocene, global climate change brought colder and drier conditions to New Zealand, with significant changes to vegetation and environments".
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