HORSESHOE BAT FACTS
The name “horseshoe” bats comes from the distinctive shape of their nose. Many species of bats have fleshy folds of skin around their nostrils called a noseleaf. In the horseshoe bats, the lower part of its noseleaf is shaped like a horseshoe or a U-shape.
This lower section covers the bat’s upper lip. The upper part of the noseleaf, above the nostril, is pointed. In some species, such as Hildebrandt’s horseshoe bat, the noseleaf is hairy.
Horseshoe bat species range widely in size, from small to moderate. The smaller species of these bats can have a head and body length of 1.4 inches (3.5 centimeters) and the larger species can measure 4.3 inches (11 centimeters). They weigh from 0.15 ounces (4.3 grams; less than the weight of two pennies) to 13.8 ounces (35 grams).
The fur on horseshoe bats can be a variety of colors, including gray-brown and reddish brown fur. Other bats can have gray, black, dark brown, yellow, or bright orange-red fur. Their fur is long and soft. These bats have large ears that are typically pointy and can move independently of one another. Their eyes are relatively small. The wings are broad with rounded ends.
Horseshoe bats are found in temperate (areas with moderate temperatures) and tropical regions of the Old World, meaning the part of the world made up of Australia, Africa, Asia, and Europe. These bats are found in southern Europe, Africa, and southern Asia to northern and eastern Australia, including many Pacific islands. They do not live in the arid (extremely dry) ranges of Africa. In many areas, these bats have extremely small ranges.
Horseshoe bats live in a wide variety of areas, such as forests, savannas, open areas, and occasionally in deserts. Horseshoe bats can live in areas that are cooler than many other bats can survive. They also have a wide variety of places in which they roost, meaning rest or settle. Primary roosting sites include caves and hollow trees. Other roosting sites include buildings, houses, mines, holes, and tunnels. Some of these bats roost in open areas. Research indicates that the roosting sites for these bats may be important factors in determining where they decide to live.
WHAT DO HORSESHOE BATS EAT
Horseshoe bats eat insects and spiders.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Like all bats, horseshoe bats are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night. They begin foraging for their food later in the evening than most other bats, typically hunting about 20 feet (6 meters) above the ground. Horseshoe bats have a fluttering or hovering flight. These bats will catch prey (animals hunted for food) both in flight and on surfaces, such as leaves or branches.
Some species also sit on some type of perch, such as a branch, and snatch insects as they fly past. When foraging, or searching, for food on surfaces, called gleaning, these bats find prey on branches, leaves, rocks, and the ground. The bats will eat the insect in flight if they are small enough. If the prey is a large insect, they may take their prey back to a roost or a feeding perch. They can catch the insect in their wings and store it in their cheek.
To locate their prey, horseshoe bats use echolocation (eck-ohloh-KAY-shun), a technique in which they send out sounds and listen to the sounds that bounce back to locate objects. Horseshoe bats echolocate through their noses, as opposed to most bats, which send out echolocation calls through their mouths. Using echolocation, horseshoe bats can detect the flutter of insects’ wings.
Most species gather together to roost, from small colonies of about twenty individuals, to large colonies of up to 2,000 individuals. One species in particular, the woolly horseshoe bat, roosts in pairs. These bats hang freely when they roost, not huddling next to one another to keep warm as do many other bats. When roosting, these bats wrap their wings around themselves, enclosing their entire body.
Species that live in northern areas may hibernate (deep sleep in which an animal conserves energy) during the winter. Other species go into torpor every day. Torpor is a period of inactivity in which an animal’s heart rate slows down to conserve energy. At least one species is migratory, meaning they travel to warmer areas when the weather becomes cool. Many species that hibernate can awaken easily and change their hibernating sites occasionally, sometimes flying almost a mile (1,500 meters) or more to a new place.
In some species, including ones that hibernate, females mate during the fall, but fertilization does not occur until the spring. In other species, mating and fertilization occur in the spring. For bats that live in tropical areas, females give birth during the warm summer months. In some species, males and females live together all year, while females form separate colonies in other species. Gestation (pregnancy) ranges from seven weeks to slightly over five months. Bats typically have one offspring per season, and the babies are independent at six to eight weeks of age.
HORSESHOE BATS AND PEOPLE
People have caused the decline in many species of horseshoe bats by destroying their habitat. Altering or disturbing these bats’ habitat can indirectly reduce their prey. The use of insecticides, a chemical used to kill or control insects, has also reduced the population of the bats’ prey.
Most species of horseshoe bats are in danger of a decline in population or have already experienced population loss. Researchers know little about some species of these bats and so their conservation status is not known. Out of the species listed in the IUCN Red List, thiry-eight species, there is one species listed as Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction, dying out, in the wild; and two as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. There are also species that are not considered endangered globally but are in danger of extinction in specific areas, such as the greater horseshoe bat, which is regarded as endangered in Europe.