Look closely at this little bat and you'll see pollen slathered all over its nose after feasting on the rare Hades flower.
The lesser short-tailed bat (Mystacina tuberculata), which is about six to seven centimetres in length, is one of only two species of bats endemic to New Zealand.
The bat, which is endangered, forages on the ground as well as in the air and walks on four limbs — their backward facing feet and their wrists, said palaeontologist, Associate Professor Suzanne Hand from the University of New South Wales.
The bat has a broad diet including nectar, pollen, fruit, flowers and insects.
"Bats are important pollinators and seed dispersers that keep forests healthy," Dr Hand said.
In autumn, the bat plays an important role in the lifecycle of the rare Hades flower (Dactylanthus taylorii), sometimes known in Mâori as "pua o te reinga" or "flower of the underworld".
The endangered flower (seen in the foreground of the image) is a parasitic plant that grows on the roots of certain trees in New Zealand's north island.
The pinky-brown flowers — which smell like fermenting corn — appear from February to May.
It is the only ground flower in the world pollinated by a bat, Dr Hand said.
While Mystacina tuberculata is the only bat of its genus seen today, its relatives first appeared in New Zealand 16 million years ago, according to a study by Dr Hand and her colleagues.
At an estimated 40 grams, the extinct bat was roughly three times heavier than its living cousin, suggesting it spent less time in the air and hunted even larger prey and ate larger fruit on the ground, they report in journal PLOS One.
- Miocene Fossils Reveal Ancient Roots for New Zealand’s EndemicMystacina (Chiroptera) and Its Rainforest Habitat
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The New Zealand endemic bat family Mystacinidae comprises just two Recent species referred to a single genus, Mystacina. The family was once more diverse and widespread, with an additional six extinct taxa recorded from Australia and New Zealand. Here, a new mystacinid is described from the early Miocene (19–16 Ma) St Bathans Fauna of Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand. It is the first pre-Pleistocene record of the modern genus and it extends the evolutionary history of Mystacina back at least 16 million years. ExtantMystacina species occupy old-growth rainforest and are semi-terrestrial with an exceptionally broad omnivorous diet. The majority of the plants inhabited, pollinated, dispersed or eaten by modern Mystacina were well-established in southern New Zealand in the early Miocene, based on the fossil record from sites at or near where the bat fossils are found. Similarly, many of the arthropod prey of living Mystacina are recorded as fossils in the same area. Although none of the Miocene plant and arthropod species is extant, most are closely related to modern taxa, demonstrating potentially long-standing ecological associations with Mystacina.