Asia-Pacific

Bat fossil shines light on NZ prehistory

The discovery of fossilised remains of a giant bat that lived in NZ millions of years ago shows that it was once was home to a diverse range of furry creatures.

The discovery of fossilised remains of a giant bat that lived in New Zealand millions of years ago shows that it was once home to a diverse range of furry creatures.

Today the entire native land mammal fauna in New Zealand is comprised of just two bat species. All other land mammals were introduced from overseas over the last 800 years.

Teeth and bones from the extinct bat were recovered from 19 to 16 million-year-old sediments near the town of St Bathans in Central Otago on the South Island, according to a study published in the Scientific Reports journal on Wednesday.

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

Burrowing bats which are unique to New Zealand, not only fly but scurry about on all fours while foraging for animal and plant food.

These types of bats are "more closely related to bats living in South America than to others in the south-west Pacific," Professor Sue Hand from the University of New South Wales explained.

Approximately 50 million years ago these areas were all part of the southern supercontinent Gondwana. But with the fragmentation of the land masses, cooling climates and the growth of ice sheets in Antarctica, Australasia's burrowing bats became isolated from their South American relatives.

Study co-author Trevor Worthy said, "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."

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