Honduran white bat (Ectophylla alba)

Also known as: White bat
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderChiroptera
FamilyPhyllostomidae
GenusEctophylla (1)
SizeHead-body length: 3.7 - 4.7 cm (2)
Weight5 - 6 g (2)

Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

First described in 1892 (2), this tiny, white-furred bat is perhaps most noticeable for its remarkable habit of constructing its own roost from the leaves of plants (3). The scientific name of this species, Ectophylla, is derived from the Greek ecktos, meaning 'outside' and phyllon, meaning 'leaf', and refers to its distinctive, leaf-shaped nose. The species name alba is Latin for 'white', making reference to the eye-catching white fur of the bat (2). The Honduran white bat has regular body proportions - if much scaled down - for a fruit-eating bat, with no tail, fairly small ears and a short muzzle (4). Its body is covered in fine white hair, and although at first this may appear somewhat impractical, the effect of sunlight shining through the leaves of its shelter casts a green light across the bat roosting underneath, providing effective camouflage from predators (5).

The Honduran white bat is found solely along the Caribbean lowlands of Central America, from Honduras, through Nicaragua and Costa Rica to western Panama (1).

An inhabitant of evergreen tropical forests (1), the Honduran white bat requires areas where there is sufficient canopy coverage, understorey coverage up to one metre in height, and a density of Heliconia, a fairly common tropical flowering plant (6).

Perhaps the most interesting feature of this tiny bat is its roosting habits, as it roosts in a ‘tent’ it constructs from a leaf  (3). The Honduran white bat primarily uses the leaves of Heliconia plant species, but may also use the leaves of Calathea and Ischnosiphon plants (7). To form its tent-like shelter from these wide, waxy leaves, the bat selects relatively low-hanging foliage and severs the leaf on either side of the midrib along most of its length. The two sides of the leaf droop down under their own weight, creating a waterproof shelter and providing protection from potential predators (3). Both male and female Honduran white bats are known to be able to create these tents (7) (8).

Like many other bats, the Honduran white bat is nocturnal, preferring to roost throughout the day in its tent, and venturing out at night to forage for fruit, on which it feeds exclusively (2). This bat typically roosts in groups of four to eight, although cases of single bats roosting in their own tents are not unusual (2) (9). The females produce only a single young at a time, coinciding with the rainy season of the Caribbean lowlands which extends from May through to August (2).

Population numbers of the Honduran white bat are reported to have declined significantly (1), as the spread of agriculture and urban development have destroyed suitable habitat. A century ago, 80 percent of Costa Rica was forested, but today that figure has fallen to just 20 percent (10). The dependence of the Honduran white bat on a very specific habitat, that is, forest with a suitable density of Heliconia plants, makes this species vulnerable to extinction (6).

Although not aimed specifically at the Honduran white bat, there are a number of conservation projects in progress, or planned, throughout Central America, aiming to decrease and potentially halt the rapid deforestation that the region is currently undergoing. Conservation and environmental groups such as the WWF, the Nature Conservancy and a number of volunteer groups have a strong presence in the area (11) (12).  Whilst Costa Rica has lost vast areas of its forest, fortunately today about a quarter of Costa Rica’s remaining forests are protected (10). A conservation programme for the country’s bats has also been developed, which includes research, conservation actions, and efforts to educate the public about bat conservation (10).

For further information on wildlife conservation in Central America see:

Authenticated (15/08/10) by Bernal Rodriguez-Herrera, Academic Director of Tirimbina Biological Reserve and Professor of Escuela de Biología, Universidad de Costa Rica.
http://www.tirimbina.org/what-is-tirimbina/our-satff.htm and 
http://museo.biologia.ucr.ac.cr/Personal.htm

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Timm, R.M. (1982) Ectophylla alba. Mammalian Species, 166: 1-4.
  3. Timm, R.M. and Mortimer, J. (1976) Selection of roost sites by Honduran white bats, Ectophylla alba (Chiroptera: Phyllostomatidae). Ecology, 57(2): 385-389.
  4. Findley, J.S. (1993) Bat: A Community Perspective. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  5. Altringham, J.D., McOwat, T. and Hammond, L. (1996) Bats: Biology and Behaviour. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Rodríguez-Herrera, B., Medellín, R.A., Gamba-Rios, M. (2008) Roosting requirements of white tent-making bat Ectophylla alba (Chiroptera: Phyllostomidae). Acta Chiropterologica, 10(1): 89-95.
  7. Rodríguez-Herrera, B. (2010) Pers. comm.
  8. Rodríguez-Herrera, B., Medellín, R.A. and Gamba, M. (2006) A tent building by female Ectophylla alba (Chiroptera:Phyllostomidae) in Costa Rica. Acta Chiropterologica, 8(2): 557-561.
  9. Brooke, A.P. (1990) Tent selection, roosting ecology and social organization of the tent-making bat, Ectophylla alba, in Costa Rica. Journal of Zoology, 221: 11-19.
  10. Rodríguez-Herrera, B. and LaVal, R.K. (2002) Conserving Costa Rica’s Bats. BATS Magazine, 20(4): 4-6.
  11. WWF (November, 2009)
    http://www.panda.org/who_we_are/wwf_offices/costa_rica
  12. Nature Conservancy (November, 2009)
    http://www.nature.org/wherewework/centralamerica