Meet Vulcanops, Giant Burrowing Bat and Ghost of Gondwana


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New fossil discover Vulcanops hails from New Zealand, residence of burrowing bats together with the now-extinct Mystacina robusta, proven right here in an artist rendering. (Credit score Gavin Mouldey)

The place would possibly you anticipate finding fossils of an enormous burrowing bat, 3 times larger than at the moment’s common bat? Why, in St. Bathans, New Zealand, in fact. Vulcanops jennyworthyae, which lived greater than 15 million years in the past, tells an enchanting story of a misplaced world.

No offense to Jenny Worthy, the group member honored within the new fossil bat’s species title, however I’m going to name this little magnificence by its genus title, Vulcanops, coincidentally the primary new bat genus found in New Zealand for nicely over a century.

Vulcanops’ bones and tooth have been present in sediment that’s dated to the sooner half of the Miocene Epoch, extra particularly, about 16 to 19 million years in the past. It was present in Central Otago, an attractive area of New Zealand’s South Island that may look very acquainted should you’ve ever watched any of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit motion pictures.

The particular nook of Otago the place this bat as soon as flew and scurried across the floor, was extra just lately bustling with gold mining exercise within the late 19th century. That’s when St. Bathans sprung up, together with the enduring Vulcan Resort, after which Vulcanops is called.

Washing of St Bathans sediments through sieves in Manuherikia River in New Zealand to collect fossil bones and teeth of an ancient burrowing bat. (Credit Vanesa De Pietri)

Ah, lovely New Zealand. Right here on the fringe of the Manuherikia River on the South Island, close to the tiny city of St. Bathans, researchers arrange sieves to clean away sediment and reveal fossils of Miocene animals together with big burrowing bat Vulcanops. (Credit score Vanesa De Pietri)

Digging Deep

Okay, sufficient about New Zealand. Let’s get batty. Bats, the one flying mammals (sorry, sugar gliders), are fascinating, and burrowing bats are significantly attention-grabbing.

At present, burrowing bats are discovered solely in New Zealand — although they as soon as winged by means of Australian skies (and scuttled alongside the bottom there as nicely). Whereas many bats have developed to be somewhat specific of their weight-reduction plan — solely fruit, for instance, or simply bugs — the burrowing bats are omnivores.

Primarily based on the tooth of Vulcanops, it seems like this specific bat developed to eat each plant matter and doubtlessly small vertebrates, which trendy burrowing bats don’t do. You realize who does, nevertheless? Some South American bats, and right here’s the place issues get particularly thrilling in a tectonic shift sort of means.

Vulcanops and different burrowing bats, regardless of being discovered solely in New Zealand and (beforehand) Australia, are extra intently associated to South American bats than to their South Pacific neighbors.

Supercontinental Bust-Up

Method means again within the day, like, say 200 million years in the past, ancestral types of Australia, Antarctica, South America, Africa and India, plus the twinkle within the eye of geological forces that might sooner or later be New Zealand, have been all clumped collectively into the supercontinent Gondwana.

Over tens of millions of years, Gondwana broke up and the varied items moved round, eroded or emerged from the ocean because of the magic of plate tectonics (of us, I’m utilizing the phrase “magic” poetically right here, so don’t kvetch about me suggesting the chilly laborious science of plate tectonics is something much less actual than it’s).

You possibly can learn extra about Gondwana, particularly New Zealand’s half in the entire tectonic saga, in a helpful primer put out by the nation’s Division of Conservation.

When the final bits of Gondwana have been going their very own methods round 40-50 million years in the past, the local weather was considerably hotter (Antarctica was downright balmy) and a number of other species of wildlife have been distributed all through what was left of the supercontinent, together with ancestral burrowing bats.

As soon as Gondwana broke up for good (Australia’s not coming again, South America, recover from it! Transfer on together with your life!) and the local weather cooled, these pan-Gondwana populations grew to become remoted however continued to evolve…Nicely, apart from those that went extinct.

The Vulcanops researchers consider the final cooling and drying out that occurred within the wake of Gondwana’s break-up might have in the end performed within the massive burrowing bat.

Learn Extra, Study Extra

“Ghost of Gondwana” within the topic line, by the way in which, is a little bit of a rip-off from a fantastic e book by George Gibbs, Ghosts of Gondwana: The Historical past of Life in New Zealand. I picked it up after I lived in New Zealand, but when the misplaced supercontinent’s secret historical past, instructed in fossils, is of any curiosity to you, I extremely advocate you dig it up nevertheless you may.

Vulcanops debuted this week in Scientific Studies and the paper detailing this marvelous animal is open entry, so hop on it. There, these of you obsessive about measurement will be taught that researchers estimate Vulcanops’ weight was about 40 grams (round 1.5 ounces), in contrast with the median weight of dwelling bats, which checks in at a mere 13.eight grams (slightly below half an oz.). What have been you anticipating, a bat the scale of a Haast’s eagle?

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