Happy October! To celebrate the spookiest month of the year, I’ll be posting a series of short articles on bats, cats, rats, and all kinds of creepy critters!
You may have heard of vampire bats, but have you heard of… GHOST BATS?
There are actually three species of bat with the word “ghost” in their name: the ghost bat of Australia, Macroderma gigas, the Northern ghost bat, Diclidurus albus, and finally the ghost-faced bat, Mormoops megalophylla.
The ghost bat (which is also, funnily enough, known as the false vampire bat) likely gets its name from its pale fur and adorable ghoulish expression. It is an Australian species that ranges in color from the sooty-grey Queensland morph to the near-white desert morph in the west.
It is a big bat, one of the largest members of microchiroptera with a two-foot (60 cm) wingspan. Insects alone don’t satisfy this ghost’s spiritual needs; it hunts small mammals, reptiles, frogs, birds, and even other bats. It is actually the only carnivorous bat in Australia.
Like their spooky namesake, ghost bats are elusive and very hard to spot.
The Northern ghost bat is often mistaken for the similarly-colored Honduran white bat for their color and the fact that both have a habit of roosting on the undersides of palm leaves. Perhaps this is why it always has such an irritated look on its face- the two species are not even closely related.
The Northern ghost bat is found across Central and South America, though it is rare in all parts of its range. It’s a small fellow with a wingspan of up to three inches (7 cm). Despite this, it still manages to eat about 1,000 insects a night.
Unlike most bat species, the Northern ghost bat is solitary outside the breeding season and normally roosts by itself.
The ghost-faced bat is the only one in the group not named for its color, but rather that attractive countenance. It’s found from Texas to Venezuela, roosting in colonies up to 500,000 members strong. Just think of looking up and seeing 500,000 of those faces staring down at you from the ceiling.
It’s got a 15 inch wingspan and it eats insects, but you don’t really care, right? All you want to know is why, dear lord, why does its face look like that.
The answer is that nobody freakin’ knows. Seriously, I haven’t found so much as a theory as to why their faces look like that. There’s no sexual dimorphism between males and females, so it can’t have anything to do with mate choice, and as far as we know their insect diet isn’t particularly specialized to warrant unusual headgear… maybe it’s simply customary for baby ghost-faced bats to smash face-first into a cave wall on their first flight?
The best info I could dig up was the fact that there is a heavy concentration of sebaceous glands around the ghost-faced bat’s skin folds, so it may somehow be involved in scent communication. Who knows- there really hasn’t been too much research done on them.
The ghost-faced bat is actually a member of the genus Mormoopidae, which is a nice collection of uniquely hideous characters with such names as the sooty mustached bat or the big naked-backed bat.
None of them really get to the level of the ghost-faced bat, of course. As far as scariness goes, it is the winner of this round.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed this brief overview of the three spookiest bats of them all!
To view a list of all my animal articles, head to the Nonfiction section.
Hudson W.S., Wilson D.E (1986). “Macroderma gigas”. Mammalian Species 260 (260): 1–4.
Lim, B., Miller, B., Reid, F., Arroyo-Cabrales, J., Cuarón, A.D. & de Grammont, P.C. 2008. Diclidurus albus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2.
Rezsutek, Michael and Guy N. Cameron. 1993. “Mormoops megalophylla”. Mammalian Species (American Society of Mammalogists) (448): 1–5.
Steinway, M. 2000. “Mormoops megalophylla”. Animal Diversity Web.