Lesser false vampire bat (Megaderma spasma)

Also known as: Common Asian ghost bat
Synonyms: Megaderma carimatae, Megaderma lasiae, Megaderma natunae, Megaderma niasense, Megaderma siumatis
GenusMegaderma (1)
SizeHead-and-body length: 65 - 82 mm (2)
Forearm length: 56 - 62 mm (2)
Weight20 - 31 g (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The lesser false vampire bat is one of only two species belonging to the genus Megaderma (Megaderma spasma and Megaderma lyra). Paradoxically, whilst they are voracious carnivores, they do not resemble the vampire bats of South America, but are instead so-named due to their large teeth which caused confusion before the true vampire bats were confirmed as the only blood-drinkers. They have large, rabbit-like ears that are joined at their base and enclose a long tragus (inner ear) that is split in two. The noseleaf, which is used for echolocation, is an oval-shaped lobe with a central bar that carries flaps on either side. The Megadermatidae do not have tails, but do possess a large area of membrane between the hind legs, known as the interfemoral membrane, which is used for scooping prey from leaf surfaces. The fur is very long and fluffy, and varies in colour from grey to brown. Juveniles are consistently grey (2).

The lesser false vampire bat is widely distributed across Southern and Southeast Asia, from India to Indonesia and the Philippines. There are a large number of recorded subspecies: Megaderma spasma horsfieldii (India); Megaderma spasma ceylonese (Sri Lanka); Megaderma spasma majus (Burma); Megaderma spasma minus (Cambodia, Thailand, Indochina); Megaderma spasma medium (Singapore Island, southern Burma, Tarutua Island, the Riau Islands, northern Sumatra); Megaderma spasma abditum (Aor Island, Johore Island); Megaderma spasma lasiae (western Sumatra); Megaderma spasma niasense (Mentawai Islands); Megaderma spasma siumatatis (Sumatis Island); Megaderma spasma trifolium (Borneo and offshore islands); Megaderma spasma pangandarana (Java); Megaderma spasma natunae (Natuna Island); Megaderma spasma carimatae (Karimata Island off Borneo); Megaderma spasma kinabalu (Mount Kinabalu on Borneo); Megaderma spasma philippinensis (the Philippines); Megaderma spasma celebensis (Sulawesi); Megaderma spasma spasma (Ternate Island) (3).

Feeding in the understorey of the rainforest, this bat species roosts in small groups in caves, large tree hollows, tunnels, and abandoned buildings (2) (4).

The in-flight agility and sophisticated echolocation calls of the lesser false vampire bat allow them to enjoy an astoundingly varied diet. They have been recorded eating large insects such as grasshoppers, cockroaches, beetles and moths, as well as vertebrates including frogs, mice (2), fish, birds and even smaller bats (5). They are ‘gleaners’: bats that hunt by snatching their prey from tree trunks, branches, leaves, walls or the forest floor using the interfemoral membrane that stretches between the hind legs. They return to their roost to consume their prey (6).

A gentle and sociable bat, the lesser false vampire roosts in small, mixed-sex groups throughout the year. They mate between November and January, giving birth in April or June to a single pup after a 150 to 160 day gestation. The pup is carried in flight by its mother for two to three months, before it is weaned and learns to fly alone (7). The bats communicate with social calls that differ considerably from their complex hunting calls, which sweep from frequencies of 130 kHz to 10 kHz extremely rapidly (8). This style of echolocation is very effective in cluttered environments but is not easily detected by prey. The large ears of the lesser false vampire bat can, however, pick up sounds from the prey as well as very weak returning echoes (9).

The rapid increase in land devoted to growing oil palm has resulted in extensive loss of primary forest. Together, Malaysia and Indonesia export 88 percent of the world’s palm oil, for use in products such as margarine, lipstick and detergent. Deforestation continues at a steady rate for agricultural land and building communities, and despite the contribution of many bats in the control of insect crop pests, persecution of bats is also a threat (10).

Deforestation of primary forest for oil palm plantations, including within protected areas, is an issue of major concern and one that relies on both governmental action and consumer concern. Some large retailers have agreed, in collaboration with the WWF, to source products containing palm oil from plantations that are not on deforested land (10). Many scientific and charitable groups contribute to bat monitoring and local education programmes that can help to reduce persecution and raise awareness of the natural assets of the land (11).

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 (March, 2011)