The researchers have found giant burrowing bat fossils in the South Island of New Zealand on Thursday that lived millions of years ago. The researchers belonging to the University of South Whales and the international scientists found the bones as well teeth of the extinct bat. The fossil remains of the burrowing bat reveal that it was thrice the size of an average bat and could walk on all the four legs.
The fossil remains of the bat, found in St Bathans in South Island’s Central Otago, are said to be dated back to an estimated period of 16 to 19 million years old. The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The fossils of the burrowing bat weigh about 40 grams and make it the biggest burrowing bat which has been discovered to date. The findings reveal that the peculiar bats did not fly and walked on all four legs while searching for animal food or plants hidden under the tree branches or leaves. The name given to the giant burrowing bat is Vulcanops jennyworthyae, derived from the research team member Jenny Worthy who discovered the fossils and the Roman god of fire and volcano.
The burrowing bats are closely related to the South American bats. The burrowing bats found in New Zealand have a varied diet, including invertebrates like spiders and some other insects. The giant teeth of the Vulcanops jennyworthyae suggest that its diet was different and included more of vertebrates and plants.
Paul Scofield, the co-author of the study and a senior curator of natural history at the Canterbury Museum, said that the South American relatives of these bats lived alongside the iconic species in New Zealand like Moas, Kiwi and Tuataras. But on the other side, these species evolved in a way more complex community.
For survival, the Vulcanops jennyworthyae consumed of spiders, insects and weta as well. A weta dominates the territory of New Zealand and is a common name given to 70 different species. The bats utilised their big sized teeth to consume both plant material and smaller version of vertebrates which is similar to its modern cousins in South America. But still, the bats dominating Australia do not have the same diet.
The cooling and drying trend of New Zealand for an extended period of time could have caused the extinction of many bat species thriving in this area, leaving just two species in the modern fauna of New Zealand. Thus, the humans introduced some other varieties of bats in this area to increase the diversity. And now, the latest study shows on the prehistoric burrowing bat gives evidence that a wide diversity of bat species lived in the Gondwana supercontinent many years ago.