Ghost bat (Macroderma gigas)

Also known as: Australian false vampire bat, Australian ghost bat, Australian giant false vampire bat
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderChiroptera
FamilyMegadermatidae
GenusMacroderma (1)
SizeHead-body length: 10 - 14 cm (2) (3)
Forearm length: 10.5 - 11.5 cm (2) (3)
Wingspan: ca. 60 cm (2) (3)
Weight130 - 170 g (2) (3)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The largest of the false vampire bats (Megadermatidae) (3) (4), the ghost bat gains its rather spooky name from its unusually pale colouration (2). The long, soft fur is usually white or pale grey on the upperparts, with individual hairs often varying through white to pale greyish brown, while the underparts, head, ears, nose leaf and wing membranes are generally whitish (2) (3) (5) (6). Darker individuals also occur (2) (3). The ghost bat has no external tail, although there is a broad tail membrane, and the wing membranes are also very broad. As in other members of the Megadermatidae, the eyes are relatively large, and the impressively long ears are joined at the base, with a forked tragus that partly covers the ear opening, while a long, erect nose leaf projects above the snout (2) (3) (4) (5) (7). The male ghost bat is slightly larger than the female (3) (8).

The ghost bat is found in Australia, where it has a scattered distribution across the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia, and it may also occur in suitable habitat in New Guinea, although this is unconfirmed. There is evidence that the ghost bat was once more widespread across Australia, but the species now consists of a number of relatively isolated regional populations (1) (2) (3) (7) (9).

The ghost bat occurs in a range of habitats from rainforest to more arid areas, including tropical savanna, savanna woodland and mangroves. In rainforest areas the ghost bat is mainly found in the arid zones near rock outcrops, and it roosts in caves, rock crevices and mine shafts, moving between a number of different roost sites seasonally or depending on weather conditions (1) (2) (3) (7) (9).

One of the most carnivorous of bats, the ghost bat emerges from the roost after sunset and flies up to two kilometres to a preferred foraging site, where it hangs from a perch to await passing prey (2) (3) (4) (7). The diet includes a variety of small animals, including large insects, small mammals, lizards, frogs, birds, and even other bats (2) (3) (5) (7) (10), and an individual may take prey up to 60 or even 80 percent of its own weight (3) (6) (7) (10). Some fruit may also be eaten (1) (7). The species’ alternative name of ‘false vampire bat’ reflects the old but erroneous belief that this species, like the true vampire bats, feeds on blood (2) (6). However, the ghost bat is still a fearsome predator, able to locate prey by both sight and sound, and ambushing it in the air or by dropping on it from above, usually killing it with a bite to the head or neck (2) (3) (4) (6) (7). The prey is then taken to a feeding perch or back to the roost to be consumed (1) (2) (5) (6) (7).

The ghost bat typically roosts alone or in small groups, with larger ‘maternity’ colonies forming during the breeding season (2) (3) (4) (5) (8). Each population appears to have a regionally centralised maternity site, with only around ten such sites known to exist (9). Mating occurs in April and May, and the female ghost bat gives birth to a single young from around July to November (2) (3) (5). The young bat is carried by the female for the first four weeks, after which it is left at the roost and fed on prey brought back by the female (2) (5) (6). Weaning occurs by about three months (5), and both sexes reach maturity in the second year. Lifespan in this species has been recorded at over 16 years in captivity (2).

Although its disappearance from southern and central Australia may be partly due to natural increases in aridity in these areas (2) (3) (8), the ghost bat is now undergoing a decline due to a range of human activities. Its relatively small population is restricted to a few, highly disjunct populations, making it more vulnerable to extinction on a regional basis (1) (11). The main threat to the species is disturbance at roost sites, from mining, quarrying, the collapse of disused mines, and tourism, with the bats often leaving the roost if people enter (1) (7) (8) (9). As this species has precise requirements for a number of roost sites, for use in different conditions, the importance of little-used roosts may often be underestimated (7). Additional problems include habitat changes for livestock, competition for prey with introduced foxes and cats (1) (7) (9), and entanglement in barbed wire fences (1) (12). At the southern limits of its range, the lack of suitable roost sites and the isolation of the existing colonies suggest that immigration or recolonisation will not rescue the population if local extinctions occur (1).

Most known colonies of the ghost bat occur in protected areas (1) (7), but notable exceptions include its breeding sites in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, which receive no formal protection (1). The ghost bat is protected throughout Australia, as well as by state legislation in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia (7), and the species is subject to a Recovery Outline published in the Action Plan for Australian Bats (9). Current management activities, which include a captive breeding programme and long-term population studies, should take into account the independent genetic statuses of regional populations (1) (7) (11). A range of further conservation measures have also been suggested, including regulation of cave tourism, the identification and protection of unprotected maternity colonies, the use of non-barbed wire fences, and ensuring that habitat management and mining activities are sympathetic to the needs of this large and impressive predator (1) (7) (12).

To find out more about the conservation of the ghost bat and other bat species see:

For more information on conservation in Australia see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  3. Hudson, W.S. and Wilson, D.E. (1986) Macroderma gigas. Mammalian Species, 260: 1-4. Available at:
    http://www.science.smith.edu/departments/Biology/VHAYSSEN/msi/pdf/i0076-3519-260-01-0001.pdf
  4. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Cronin, L. (2008) Cronin's Key Guide Australian Mammals. Allen & Unwin, Sydney.
  6. Altringham, J.D. (2001) Bats: Biology and Behaviour. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  7. Hutson, A.M., Mickleburgh, S.P. and Racey, P.A. (2001) Microchiropteran Bats: Global Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Chiroptera Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
    http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/2001-008.pdf
  8. UNEP-WCMC (December, 2009)
    http://www.unep-wcmc.org/species/data/species_sheets/ghostbat.htm
  9. Duncan, A., Baker, G.B. and Montgomery, N. (1999) The Action Plan for Australian Bats. Environment Australia, Canberra, Australia. Available at:
    http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/action/bats/
  10. Boles, W.E. (1999) Avian prey of the Australian ghost bat Macroderma gigas (Microchiroptera: Megadermatidae): prey characteristics and damage from predation. Australian Zoologist, 31: 82-91.
  11. Wilmer, J.W., Moritz, C., Hall, L. and Toop, J. (1994) Extreme population structuring in the threatened ghost bat, Macroderma gigas: evidence from mitochondrial DNA. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 257(1349): 193-198.
  12. Armstrong, K.N. and Anstee, S.D. (2000) The ghost bat in the Pilbara: 100 years on. Australian Mammalogy, 22: 93-101.