Bat fossil shines light on NZ prehistory

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This particular prehistoric burrowing creature derives its family line from the bats that prevailed in the areas of New Zealand, Australia, South America and even Antarctica.

The fossilised remains of a giant burrowing bat that lived millions of years ago have been found in New Zealand, an worldwide team of scientists announced Thursday.

"New Zealand's burrowing bats are also renowned for their extremely broad diet", says study first author Professor Sue Hand of the University of New South Wales.

Around 50 million years ago, the landmasses of Australia, New Zealand, South America and Antarctica were connected as the last vestiges of the southern supercontinent Gondwana.

"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. It was a burrowing bat, which means that although it flew around like others of its kind, it also walked the forest floor.

Modern-day Australasian burrowing bats enjoy a wide selection of foods, including insects, fruits, and flowers.

"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".

New Zealand's burrowing bats that exist today eat insects that they catch on the wing or chase by foot. The modern counterparts of these ancient bats can be found far away in the South American continent. The place was covered with forests with no ice which provided a great habitat for wildlife to thrive. But their giant ancestors, which were three times the size of the average bat today, could count on specialized teeth that allowed him to devour a richer variety of plants and even small vertebrates, a diet that is now only followed by its South American cousins.

"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", Trevor Worthy, co-author and paleontologist of Flinders University, said in a statement. "I think we can expect a lot more surprises from this fossil site in future". The environmental changes left many species vulnerable - and Vulcanops was not alone. While that does not sound like very much, it's practically colossal by bat standards - many species weigh just a fraction of an ounce. All other modern land mammals in the country were introduced by people within the past 800 years.

Researchers described the newly discovered species based on teeth and bones from the creature, according to a study in the journal Scientific Reports.