American leaf-nosed bats, also called New World leaf-nosed bats, are made up of diverse species. They range from small to large, with a combined head and body length of 1.6 to 5.3 inches (4 to 13.5 centimeters). This family includes the largest species of bat in the Western Hemisphere, the spectral vampire bat.

These bats have a wingspan of about 3 feet (1 meter).

Some species have visible tails that are as long as 2.2 inches (5.5 centimeters), and others have no tail. These bats have noseleafs, meaning fleshy protrusions on the nose. Some of these species have noseleafs that are almost as long as the head, such as the sword-nosed bat. In most species, the noseleaf is a relatively simple structure shaped like a spear. Many species have bumps, warts, and other protrusions on the head near the noseleaf or on the chin.

The size and shape of these bats’ heads vary widely and reflect their diverse feeding habits. Fruit-eating bats, for example, may have a medium-sized noseleaf, flat faces, and wide teeth to crush fruit. Bats in this family that lap up nectar (sweet liquid produced by plants) have a small noseleaf, long tongue, and small teeth. Species in this family that eat meat are generally large and have sharp teeth.

Fur color of American leaf-nosed bats is generally brown or gray, with the exception of one species, the white bat. Some species have color patterns that include stripes on the head or back, or white tufts of fur on the shoulders.


These bats are also called New World leafnosed bats because of where they are found. The New World is made up of North America, Central America, and South America. American leaf-nosed bats are found in the southwestern United States south to northern Argentina, the West Indies, and central Chile.


Most American leaf-nosed bats live in the forest. They can live in forests that range from the dry to the tropical (hot and humid). Some species live in deserts. Many species roost (settle or rest) in caves or the hollows of trees. Other roosts include hollow logs, under tree roots, mines, tree foliage, and houses. Some species form tents out of leaves, settling under the tent for protection and rest.


American leaf-nosed bats eat a broad range of foods and groups in the family are generally categorized by diet. Most species eat animals, with the smaller species eating insects and other arthropods (a group of invertebrates that have a segmented body and jointed limbs) and the larger species feeding on frogs, lizards, birds, and other bats. Other species eat nectar and fruit. Some bats frequently eat insects and fruit. Just three species feed on blood.


American leaf-nosed bats typically form colonies (groups), yet the numbers in the groups vary widely both within and among species. Sizes of groups range from pairs to colonies made up of several hundred thousand individuals.

All species of American leaf-nosed bats use echolocation (eck-oh-loh-KAY-shun) to detect objects and catch their prey (animals hunted for food). Echolocation is when an animal emits (sends out) high-pitched sounds that bounce off an object and return to the animal, which can then tell where the object is. These bats emit echolocation calls through their nose rather than their mouth.

Mating and reproduction vary widely among the species. Spectral vampire bats mate monogamously (muh-NAH-guh-mus-lee), meaning a male and female mate only with one another. The most common mating system is harem polygynous (HARE-um puhLIJ-uh-nus), meaning one male mates with multiple females. Females in this family have one offspring either once or twice a year.


Many of these bats are important pollinators for plants, meaning they disperse pollen, the fine grains that contain the male reproductive cells of seed plants. These bats help forests’ and plants’ continued survival. Through deforestation and destroying these bats’ natural habitat, people have caused the decline in many of these bats’ populations. Much of the negative myths and superstitions about bats come from the three species in this family that feed on blood. These vampire bats are considered pests to many farmers and feared for the spread of rabies.


Out of the seventy-one listed species, the 2003 IUCN Red List categorizes four species as Endangered (facing a very high risk of extinction, or dying out, in the wild) and twenty-five species as Vulnerable (facing a high risk of extinction in the wild).