New Zealand had no endemic land mammals before human colonization, leading to an explosion of diversity in bird life that eventually led to the evolution of the massive Mao and pouakai. But bats were also able to reach the isolated archipelago, and represented the only native placental mammals pre-settlement. Three species have been described, but an account exists of a supposed fourth, a “giant bat” comparable in size to a kiwi bird.

British naturalist and eccentric Sir Nigel Herbert Burton described the fossil remains he had collected on South Island to a Royal Society colleague in a letter dated 1913. Herbert Burton describes the remains as “most prodigious” while giving several contradictory size, weight, and wingspan figures. Most interestingly, Herbert Burton describes large “predatory talons” which may have indicated a raptorial hunting style similar to a bird of prey, something that is all but unknown in any other bats, living or extinct.

Unfortunately, the discovery is impossible to verify; Herbert Burton and his staff, as well as the remains themselves and all his notes, were lost aboard HMS Incredible when it was torpedoed off the Portuguese coast by SM U-62 in 1915. As there were no survivors of the sinking, with only the submarine’s logbook as proof of its demise, speculation has run rampant for decades that the remains of the kiwi-bat, as it has come to be called, are held in some dusty warehouse waiting to be uncovered. Kiwi-bats have also proven popular as a local cryptic, with at least one known “Kiwi Bat Tour” offered out of Dunedin as of 2012.

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