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Ghost bat

Ghost bat  Photo: Bruce Thomson

Ghost bat Photo: Bruce Thomson

Common name: ghost bat

Scientific name: Macroderma gigas

Family: Megadermatidae

Conservation status: This species is listed as Endangered in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992) and Vulnerable nationally (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999). It is ranked as a critical priority under the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection Back on Track species prioritisation framework.

Description

The ghost bat is Australia’s largest micro-bat. It is readily identifiable by its relatively large size, either in flight or in the hand (body length 98-118 mm and weight 74-144 g). Other distinct features of this species are its very large oval ended ears, which are joined together above the head, and the light-coloured fur and wing membranes. The colour of ghost bat fur varies with increasing distance from the coastline. Those populations closer to the coast tend to be pale grey or light brown, while populations further inland are almost white. This species also has relatively large eyes, a long, simple noseleaf, and no tail.

Habitat and distribution

Ghost bats occur in a wide range of habitats from rainforest, monsoon and vine scrub, to open woodlands in arid areas. These habitats are used for foraging, while roost habitat is more specific. Favoured roosting sites of the ghost bat are undisturbed caves or mineshafts which have several openings.

Ghost bats occur in tropical regions in Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia, but is extinct in central Australia. In Queensland, ghost bats occur along the central and northern coast, from Rockhampton north to Cape York.

Life history and behaviour

Ghost bats are active at night, hunting prey such as large insects, birds and small mammals (including other bats). This species does not forage only during flight, but often scans for prey from a feeding perch up to three metres above the ground. Feeding perches can be rocky overhangs, small caves, or the small branches or main stems of trees. When prey is detected, it is captured on the ground or in flight, and then consumed at the original perch. Less palatable portions of the prey are dropped to the ground.

Prey is detected by using echolocation, vision, or hearing (without echolocation). Their echolocation call is of low intensity, making it difficult to detect with a bat detector. Ghost bats make distinctive twitters and chirps in the roost and during foraging, which are audible to humans, and these can indicate their presence in the forest at night. This species is remarkably quiet and still when in the hand. They appear highly sensitive to disturbance and the approach of humans can cause desertion from foraging areas.

The ghost bat produces one young which is born between July and September. They can fly at seven weeks old, and are weaned by sixteen weeks.

Threatening processes

Known threats to the ghost bat are disturbance to roost sites from mining operations, collapse of old mines, or human disturbance. Other suspected threats are direct predation by cats, the reduction in prey populations from cat and fox predation, ingestion of toxic cane toads, inappropriate grazing regimes and inappropriate fire regimes (hot dry wildfires).

Recovery actions

  • Prevent further disturbance to roost sites from mining activities and unnecessary human visits to roosts.
  • Prevent further degradation of roosts in mines by reinforcement, or replacement of rotting timbers only outside of the breeding season.
  • Identify priority conservation areas for the ghost bat (especially foraging habitat).
  • Implement appropriate fire and grazing regimes in priority conservation areas.
  • Control cats and foxes in priority conservation areas.
  • Clarify the status of the arid zone regional populations with genetic analysis.

Further information

Churchill, S 2009, Australian Bats (second edition), Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Curtis, L, Dennis, A, McDonald, KR, Kyne, PM and Debus, SJS. 2012. Queensland’s Threatened Animals. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria

Duncan, A, Baker, GB and Montgomery, N (Eds.) 1999. The Action Plan for Australian Bats. Environment Australia, Canberra.

Menkhorst, P and Knight, F 2010. A field guide to mammals of Australia (third edition), Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Shine, R, Wang, S, Madani, G, Armstrong, KN, Zhang, L & Li, Y. 2016. Using genetic data to predict the vulnerability of a native predator to a toxic invader, Endangered Species Research, 31(1), 13-17.

Last updated
17 July 2017