Short-tailed bat

Lesser short-tailed bat. Photo: Colin O'Donnell.
Lesser short-tailed bat

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.

The lesser short-tailed bat is divided into three sub-species:

  • 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, the Department of Conservation listed the northern and southern subspecies as ‘nationally endangered’ and the central North Island subspecies as ‘declining’.

Short-tailed bat amongst a cluster. Photo: B.D. Lloyd.
Lesser short-tailed bat

Waiohine bats in Tararua Forest Park

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

The only known population of short-tailed bats in the southern North Island, it is thought they are related to both the volcanic plateau and the southern short-tailed bats.

They became isolated during a glacial period in the centre of the North Island, and through volcanic activity, more than 90,000 years ago. 

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

Facts about short-tailed bats

Short-tailed bats weigh around 12-15 grams, 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 bat taking flax flower nectar. Photo: B.D.Lloyd.
Short-tailed bat taking flax flower nectar

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.


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.

DOC's work with the short-tailed bat

The Department of Conservation'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)

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.

Short tailed bat, close up, Codfish Island. Photographer: B.D.Lloyd.
Short-tailed bat, Codfish Island

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 monitoring

The South Island lesser short-tailed bat is ranked by the Department of Conservation 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.

Read a report outlining the results of the January 2012 field season, shows the population trends gathered to date and lists recommendations for 2013 and the future.

Eglinton Valley lesser short-tailed bat monitoring programme 2012 (PDF, 2960K)

You can help

Protect native forest in your area. This will assist other species as well as bats. If you are a back-country 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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