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The extinct Vulcanops jennyworthyae, which weighed about 40g, represented the largest burrowing bat known to science, and New Zealand's first new bat genus for more than years. Others in the St Bathans Fauna group have included crocodiles, terrestrial turtles, flamingo-like palaelodids, swiftlets, and several pigeon, parrot and shorebird lineages.

Native Birds of New Zealand

The group also included the enigmatic St Bathans mammal, whose existence suggested that terrestrial mammals did in fact once live in Zealandia, the recently recognised "eighth continent" that today lies mostly submerged beneath the ocean. Skip to main content. Wednesday, 28 February Comment now. Related Stories. Add a Comment Login or register to post comments. The Department of Conservation has a number of online courses , including one that will help you to identify the 10 birds most commonly heard during a 5-minute bird survey.

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Gisborne Gisborne. Taranaki North Taranaki South Taranaki. West Coast West Coast. How-to guide. Its bones could still be found protruding from the Te Whanga lagoon, he said.

Discovered in New Zealand, the bird has been dubbed ‘Squawkzilla’

Its wings were shorter than its Australian relatives, and its legs were much longer and stronger. Now that we know the Australasian swan is not a replica of the original New Zealand swan it arrived in the s, either under its own steam or introduced by Europeans , should it be protected, or is it more properly a pest? Can one species fulfil the same role in an ecosystem as a close relative? Medical technologies are giving researchers fresh insights into the biology of these animals, says Paul Scofield. Scofield and Ashwell found the eagle had a relatively small brain and eyes for its size, another piece of evidence supporting the idea that it evolved rapidly from a tiny ancestor.

Other new techniques include bombarding buried bones with neutrons in a nuclear reactor to form a 3D image—avoiding the need to painstakingly chip away rock or metal—and using infra-red and ultra-violet light to reveal the imprint of mineralised scales on the leg bones of a moa. Compared with other countries, our fossil record is incredibly sparse. We do have an excellent record of the past 20, years, from cave deposits and middens. Other than that, we have only glimpses of prehistoric New Zealand, tiny slivers in the timeline. The St Bathans area in Central Otago reveals a detailed snapshot of New Zealand around 17 million years ago—more than 70 new species, including birds, bats, fish, lizards, molluscs, a turtle, and a mammal have recently been discovered.

Bountiful rarities

And we also know a little about life 60 million years ago, thanks to a handful of giant penguin species discovered in the Waipara Greensand in Canterbury. Even from the era we know most about, the past 20, years, the entirety of our knowledge about some species comes from a handful of tiny bones. When Wilmshurst and Wood first visited the Mt Nicholas caves in looking for moa coprolites, they scooped up a box of sediment. Going through it later under the microscope, Wood realised it was full of little bones. He picked them out and gave them to the Canterbury Museum. Several years later, the bones were finally examined.

One of those little birds was a long-billed wren, an incredibly valuable find. The species was previously known only from the remains of six individuals, and this was the seventh. The long-billed wren is a member of the Acanthisittidae , the New Zealand wren family—a group that Wood has been studying through ancient DNA. The story of the New Zealand wrens was turned upside down—and rendered even more tragic—by the new technology. There were originally six species in the family—today there are two, the rifleman and the rock wren being the only ones to survive the onslaught of mammalian predators.

Despite being a small family of tiny birds, New Zealand wrens can reveal a lot about evolution, says Wood. Knowing when the New Zealand wrens split off from the other species can tell you something about every other group. It was a tiny, flightless creature that ran around on the ground like a mouse—but it survived dramatic climate changes, the near-drowning of the entire New Zealand continent during the Oligocene, and the uplift of the Southern Alps. According to an apocryphal tale, the entire species was discovered, and then demolished, by a single cat named Tibbles.

The real story is a little more complicated, though no less tragic. In the summer of , a pregnant cat escaped, and during the following winter, began bringing small birds home to the settlement. One of the keepers, David Lyall, was interested in natural history. He saved the tiny carcasses, skinned them, and sent one off to the ornithologist Walter Buller in Wellington.

Kiwi, Kea, Weka and other birds of New Zealand - Serious Biology for Kids #7

Just 18 months later, the species was considered extinct. The odd bird may have clung on for another year or two, but by , the island was reportedly swarming with cats, and the wren was definitively eliminated.


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But one, the enigmatic long-billed wren, is still holding onto its secrets. With so few existing specimens, museums were obviously reluctant to let scientists crush up the bones to extract the DNA. When I arrive at the cave, around lunchtime, Wood—bright eyes shining beneath his googly-eyed frog beanie—shows me the collection of bones the team has already found. He tips them into a dish—a skull, bits of beak, a tiny wishbone. Could it be a long-billed wren? Before I leave the cave, Wilmshurst points out the spot near the entrance where she and Wood uncovered dozens of moa coprolites in They spent two days scraping away the surface soil and carefully extracting the layer of ancient poo underneath.

In evolutionary time, years is an eyeblink, a heartbeat. Under our feet, there are probably hundreds more coprolites, recording what the birds ate, how they lived.

Sacred kingfisher | New Zealand Birds Online

Jamie Wood became a poo specialist by accident. During his search for ancient plant material in Central Otago for his PhD research, he kept stumbling upon moa coprolites, fossilised or preserved droppings. So he collected them, just in case anyone wanted them. Wood asked Otago Museum if he could have five coprolites to analyse. We showed that some species were grazers, some were eating small shrubs, and others were a mixture of the two. Later studies revealed moa were eating ferns, mosses, and a wide variety of mushrooms—including some fungi that seem to have relied on the birds to disperse them through beech forests.

If moa coprolites can reveal so much, what mysteries could other kinds of dung solve? What animals were the most sensitive?