Media & Education
Volume 35, Issue 3, 2016
Although fascinating to bat biologists, little is known about the ghost-faced bat. The bizarre-looking face of the ghost-faced bat (Mormoops megalophylla) is something you are unlikely to forget. The species’ most striking features, its tiny eyes, appear to be located inside its large rounded ears that join at its forehead. With wart-like protuberances on its nose and leaf-like appendages on its chin, it is easy to see why it was given its ghoulish common name.
This medium-sized bat, often reddish or reddish-brown in color, is found from southwestern Texas and southern Arizona, southward through Baja California and mainland Mexico into Central America. With the species being considered uncommon in the United States, bat biologists consider it a thrilling find when captured.
“Imagine my excitement when I caught my first one at a remote tinaja in Big Bend National Park,” says BCI’s Imperiled Species Director Katie Gillies. “Lit in the light of my headlamp, I saw the large bat with short shiny fur caught in the net. Its muscular shoulders were fighting to escape. From behind, my mind raced; I knew it wasn’t a species I had ever caught before. Then, he turned his head, facing me, looking at me—the bizarre folds and wrinkles around the eyes and nose. It was unmistakable—a ghost-faced bat! I squealed with delight as I removed the gentle giant. I’ve been catching bats throughout the Americas for 15 years, and I haven’t been thrilled like that in a decade or more.”
Although the ghost-faced bat is fascinating to most bat biologists, very little is known about the species. Ghost-faced bats are thought to forage exclusively on large-bodied moths, although this is only based on the stomach contents of four individuals.
This species appears to remain active year-round, neither hibernating nor migrating. They spend their days in deep caves in karst regions or abandoned mine shafts, and emerge soon after dark to fly to the arroyos and canyons where they forage. They are strong, fast fliers that travel at relatively high altitudes enroute to and from foraging sites.
Ghost-faced bats give birth to a single pup and require hot steamy caves to raise their young. Without enough bats congregating in the deep cave to keep the temperatures toasty hot (around 104 F) the young may be less likely to survive. Colonies may contain up to half a million individuals, however males and non-reproducing females will use caves separate from the maternity caves used by nursing females. Unlike other bat species that huddle close together, ghost-faced bats tend to maintain a distance of approximately 6 inches from each other when roosting.
Like many cave-dwelling species, ghost-faced bats are at risk of localized extinctions from cave collapse, vandalism and other human disturbance. Cave tourism is causing some localized conservation issues in parts of Central America. With so little known about the species, efforts to protect these roosting caves provides the best method for conservation.
You can learn more about the ghost bat by checking out its Species Profile page!