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Bats are New Zealand's only native land mammals


Bats/pekapeka

Bats are New Zealand's only native land mammals.

There are three species: the long-tailed bat, the lesser short-tailed bat, and greater short-tailed bat. The greater short-tailed bat is thought to be extinct.

The long-tailed bat and short-tailed bat are classed as 'critical/vulnerable'. They are in danger of extinction in the medium term if nothing is done to reverse their population declines. These species are a high priority for conservation.

Maori folklore refer to bats as pekapeka and associate them with the mythical, night-flying bird, hokioi, which foretells death or disaster.


Long-tailed bat


Long-tailed bats used to be common throughout New Zealand in the 1800s, although by 1900-1930 they were becoming scarce in many districts.

Recent surveys indicate that South Island long-tailed bats are rarer than previously thought. They were once common in Dunedin, Invercargill and Christchurch, where they roosted under the wooden bridges across the Avon River until 1885.

Long-tailed bat  Image: Colin O'Donnell

Long-tailed bat wearing radio transmitter  Image: Sabine Bernert

Long-tailed bat  Image: Colin O'Donnell

Facts
The long-tailed bat (Chalinolobus tuberculatus) belongs to a more widespread family and is closely related to five other species of wattled or lobe-lipped bats in Australia and elsewhere.

It is the more 'common' bat and is widely distributed throughout the mainland, Stewart Island, Little Barrier and Great Barrier islands and Kapiti Island.
Long-tailed bats are smaller than the short-tailed bat, chestnut brown in colour, have small ears and weigh 8-11 grams.
They are believed to produce only one offspring each year.
The bat's echo-location calls include a relatively low frequency component which can be heard by some people.
It can fly at 60 kilometres per hour and has a very large home range (100 km2).
An aerial insectivore, it feeds on small moths, midges, mosquitoes and beetles.

Canterbury long-tailed batSouth Canterbury supports the only known long-tailed bat population on the East Coast of the South Island. Bats are limited to a small area from Peel Forest in the north, southwards through the foothill gorges of the Orari, Waihi, and Te Moana Rivers, Geraldine, and the Kakahu and Opihi Rivers.

On the willow-lined Opihi, bats have been reported regularly from Arowhenua and inland to the gullies of The Brothers and to the Opuha Gorge. The core of the population is centred on forest remnants and limestone areas around Hanging Rock.

Geraldine is one of the few towns in New Zealand where it is possible to see long-tailed bats. They flit like large butterflies at dusk as they emerge from giant totara and matai in Talbot Forest.

Threats
Causes of decline are combinations of:
  • Clearance and logging of lowland forests
  • Cutting of old-age trees for fire wood
  • Predation by introduced animals such as cats, possums, rats, and stoats
  • Exclusion of bats from roosts by introduced mammals, birds, wasps, and human interference.
New Zealand's bats are rapidly heading towards extinction caused by rat plagues.
Watch a video that explains how 1080 is helping to protect our native bats.




Our work
DOC's bat (pekapeka) recovery plan has a goal of conserving all bat sub-species throughout their present range and establishing new populations where possible.

Surveys are being undertaken in many areas to determine the present distribution of the two bat species. Bats are located by searching with an electronic 'bat box', a small black box that can pick up high frequency echo-location calls.

There are encouraging signs that bats are more numerous and widespread than previously thought, including recent confirmation that the short-tailed bat survives in Kahurangi National Park and the Nelson region of the South Island (it was thought to be extinct in the South Island).

Research is revealing the complex social systems of short-tailed and long-tailed bats, with both bats using a series of communal and solitary day-time roosts.

Long-tailed bats along the Kepler Track
Read about the discovery of long-tailed bats along the Kepler Track Great Walk and plans for their protection. Kepler bat research report (PDF, 5920K) (opens in new window)

pdf backup

DOC's work in South Canterbury
Most remaining bat populations are associated with extensive native forest. However, South Canterbury is special because this is one of the few places where bats have persisted in a rural landscape.

DOC researchers have been collecting information about bats in the Hanging Rock area. The population is small and vulnerable, numbering only about 100 bats and still declining.

By learning why bats have survived here, the researchers hope to make recommendations that will help restore bat populations in South Canterbury and other parts of New Zealand.

Bats are dependent on old-aged trees that provide cavities with the correct conditions for breeding. They prefer to roost in the native trees that are now scarce. However, they will roost in introduced trees that are allowed to get old and large enough for natural cavities to form.

The bats in South Canterbury have had to adapt to using species such as willows, poplars, macrocarpa, and pines.

Four special roosts used by female bats to nurse young were found in the Geraldine area. Three of these trees were intended for firewood.

You can help
Protect native forest in your area. This will assist other species as well as bats.

If you are a backcountry user, farmer, or belong to a conservation group, become involved in bat spotting to assist DOC in determining bat distribution throughout New Zealand.
Attract bats in South Canterbury

Protect native forest remnants - bats prefer to feed along forest edges and over native shrublands. Old-aged kanuka provide important roost sites in South Canterbury.

Where you find bats, do not disturb them - It is safe to watch bats as they emerge from roosts or feed, but sit quietly so they will not be frightened away. Some bats roost in limestone bluffs in late summer and winter, so rock climbers need to be careful not to disturb them.

Retain standing dead trees and old-age trees with cavities - Dead trees and old trees with hollows and cavities are still valuable for wildlife. Bats rest by day and breed in cavities in old-aged trees. They move to a new roost tree regularly so are not always present at a site, but may return later to reuse it.

A social group can use over 100 different roosting trees. If woodlots are being felled, check trees for cavities first. Ask DOC for assistance in determining how they might be safeguarded.

Protect cabbage trees and other lone native trees on farmland - Hollows in cabbage trees are also important roosts. Replant natives in these areas to shelter the trees and ensure their long term survival.

Protect old-age willow and poplar forest around ponds where bats feed – Bats like to feed on aquatic insects over water. Ponds sheltered by overhanging trees help bats to feed in poor weather. Numerous willow areas along the Opihi and Opuha Rivers and their tributaries provide this shelter.

Reduce use of pesticides – an increase in bat numbers will compensate for reduced pesticide use





There are two species of short-tailed bat.

The greater short-tailed bat (Mystacina robusta) was found on two islands off Stewart Island but following an invasion of ship rats, it was last sighted in 1967 and is probably extinct.

The endangered lesser short-tailed bat (M. tuberculata) is an ancient species unique to New Zealand and is found only at a few scattered sites. It is divided into three subspecies:
the kauri forest short-tailed bat - found only at two sites in Northland and one on Little Barrier Island
the volcanic plateau short-tailed bat - known from Northland, the central North Island and Taranaki
the southern short-tailed bat - found on Codfish Island and in the northwest Nelson and Fiordland areas.

It is the only member of its family, Mystacinidae, known to still survive. In 2012 DOC listed the northern and southern subspecies as ‘nationally endangered’ and the central North Island subspecies as ‘declining’.

Short-tailed bat  Image: Colin O'Donnell

Short-tailed bat closeup  Image: Graham Dainty

Short-tailed bat  Image: James Mortimer

Facts
Short-tailed bats weigh around 12-15 g, they have large pointed ears and a free tail. They are a mousy-grey colour.

Unlike most bats, which catch their prey in the air, the short-tailed bat has adapted to ground hunting. It is one of the few bats in the world which spends large amounts of time on the forest floor, using its folded wings as 'front limbs' for scrambling around.

Short-tailed bats are found in indigenous forests where they roost, singly or communally, in hollow trees. Thought to be a lek breeder, the male bats compete for traditional `singing' posts and `sing' to attract a female.

The bats go into a 'torpor' in cold weather and stay in their roosts. They wake up as soon as the weather becomes warmer.

Their diet consists of insects, fruit, nectar and pollen. The short-tailed bats are thought to be an important pollinator of the Dactylanthus or woodrose. This is a threatened parasitic plant which grows on the roots of trees on the forest floor.

Threats
Factors thought to have caused the bats decline include habitat loss (clearing of land for farming or the logging of native forest), introduced predators such as rats, stoats and cats and the disturbance of roosts.

New Zealand's bats are rapidly heading towards extinction caused by rat plagues.
Watch a video that explains how 1080 is helping to protect our native bats.

Our work
DOC's bat (pekapeka) recovery plan has a goal of conserving all bat sub-species throughout their present range and establishing new populations where possible.

Bat (pekapeka) Theatened Species Recovery Plan 15 (PDF, 367K) (opens in new window)

pdf backup

We are surveying bats in many areas to determine the present distribution of the two species. Bats are located by searching with an electronic 'bat box', a small black box that can pick up high frequency echo-location calls.

There are encouraging signs that bats are more numerous and widespread than previously thought. There has been recent confirmation that the short-tailed bat survives in Kahurangi National Park and the Nelson region of the South Island. It was previously thought to be extinct in the South Island.

Research is revealing the complex social systems of short-tailed and long-tailed bats, with both bats using a series of communal and solitary day-time roosts.

Eglinton Valley monitoringThe South Island lesser short-tailed bat is ranked by DOC as nationally endangered. The population in the Eglinton Valley in Southland is one of only two known populations of lesser short-tailed bats on mainland South Island.

Find out more about Eglinton Valley monitoring

Waiohine bats in Tararua Forest ParkA colony of around 300 short-tailed bats was found in the Waiohine Valley of the Tararua Forest Park in the late 1990s.

Find out more about the Waiohine bats in Tararua Forest Park.

You can helpProtect native forest in your area. This will assist other species as well as bats. If you are a backcountry user, farmer, or belong to a conservation group, become involved in bat spotting and assist the department in determining bat distribution throughout New Zealand.


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Megabats and Microbats: Bats are New Zealand's only native land mammals
Bats are New Zealand's only native land mammals
Bats are New Zealand's only native land mammals
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Megabats and Microbats
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