Fossils of a Giant Bat Discovered in New Zealand

giant bat 1
Giant Bat

Illustration/Gavin Mouldey

The fossilized remains of a giant bat that lived in New Zealand millions of years ago were discovered by an international team of scientists.

The teeth and bones of the animal — which was about three times larger than an average bat today — were found in sediments dated to about 19 million years ago, near the town of St Bathans in the center of Otago.

Burrowing bats are now only found in New Zealand, but they once lived in Australia. They are particularly distinguished by moving on all fours, usually in the forest under the dead leaves and along the branches of trees, foraging for food.

With an estimated weight of about 40 grams, this newly discovered fossil bat is today the largest burrowing bat known to date. It has been named Vulcanops jennyworthyae as a tribute to Jenny Worthy, a member of the research team and Vulcain — the mythological god of fire and volcanoes — in reference to the geological features of the region.

Burrowing bats are more closely related to bats living in South America than to those in the southwestern Pacific. “They are related to vampire bats, the fisherman bats, the nectar-eaters, and belong to a superfamily of bats that once covered the Australia, New Zealand, South America and possibly Antarctica,” notes Sue. Hand, one of the team members.

About 50 million years ago these lands were indeed connected, presenting themselves as the last vestiges of the Gondwana supercontinent. Temperatures were about 12 ° C higher than today, and Antarctica was forested. With the fragmentation of Gondwana and the growth of ice sheets in Antarctica, the bats of the region then evolved  isolated from their South American cousins.

Vulcanops jennyworthyae gives us a new insight into the original diversity of bats in Australasia. Its lineage would have died out some time after the beginning of the Miocene, like ancient crocodiles, tortoises, several lines of pigeons and other parrots. Most of these species were indeed adapted to a tropical climate. Global climate change would have favored a cooler, drier climate in New Zealand, changing the evolution of local flora and fauna.

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Eddy Shan

Eddie, a passionate video-game player focuses mostly on tech and science related new for The Talking Democrat