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Giant extinct burrowing bat fossil discovered in New Zealand

Fossilized remains of a giant burrowing bat, which lived on New Zealand between 16 and 19-million-years ago, have been found stunning an international team of scientists.

Teeth and bones of the extinct flying furry were found in sediments near the town of St. Bathans, according to EurekaAlert.org. The fossils were recover by a team led by UNSW Sydney scientists, including the study's first author, UNSW Professor Sue Hand.

The study, was conducted by researchers not only from New Zealand, but also Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. and is published in Scientific Reports.

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"This bat was relatively large, with an estimated body mass of ~40 [grams], and its dentition suggests it had an omnivorous diet," the study's abstract reads. "Its striking dental autapomorphies, including development of a large hypocone, signal a shift of diet compared with other mystacinids, and may provide evidence of an adaptive radiation in feeding strategy in this group of noctilionoid bats."

The study also noted that it is "the first new bat genus to be added to New Zealand’s fauna in more than 150 years." It has been given the name Vulcanops jennyworthyae, after team member Jenny Worthy who found the fossils.

Burrowing bats used to live in Australia but are now only found in New Zealand; they are of particular  interestd because they can fly, as well as walk on all of its limbs along the forest floor.

"Burrowing bats are more closely related to bats living in South America than to others in the southwest Pacific," said Hand, according to Eureka Alert. "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."

Hand also noted that because of the way Vulcanop's teeth are shaped, it may have also eaten small vertebrates.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia