Creepy Creatures #1: Ghost Bats!

Ghost Bat

Photo by Bruce Thompson

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.

Ghost bat! Photo by Gina Barnet.

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.

by Merlin Tuttle

Northern ghost bat. Photo by Merlin Tuttle.

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.

Art of a ghost-faced bat. Look up the real thing if you don’t believe me.

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.

Here is a sooty mustached bat. Charming. (Source.)

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!

Next creepy creature!

To view a list of all my animal articles, head to the Nonfiction section.


Patrick the Ghost Bat

Sources/Further Reading

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.

About Koryos

Writer, ethology enthusiast, axolotl herder. Might possibly just be a Lasiurus cinereus that types with its thumbs.
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  1. That face, omigosh. Great read!

  2. The Northern Ghost Bat is actually a quite adorable bat and can make great pets! (If you’re looking for a pet bat) but you can’t really find Northern Ghost Bats for sale. Also, look up the Honduran Bat! They’re so cute! and please remember, all bats are beautiful!

    • Hello Cat, thank you for commenting but I must refute your statement about Northern ghost bats making good pets. I have worked with about fifteen different species of bats both in captivity and in the wild and none of them make good pets, particularly not insectivorous ones. To say nothing of the difficulty of providing them with an appropriate diet and flight space, these animals are highly social and anxious. To be kept as a solitary pet deprives them of crucial socialization with their own kind and sets them up for high levels of stress. Beyond that, the pet trade has a history of encouraging habitat destruction and species depletion of desirable species, though I have never actually heard of this particular species even being kept as a pet before now. So I implore you not to encourage people to keep bats as pets.

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