Lesser short-tailed bat
PHOTO: James Mortimer ©

Introduction

The endangered lesser short-tailed bat is an ancient species unique to New Zealand and is found only in a few locations. The greater short-tailed bat is probably extinct.

Highlights

Conservation status of lesser short-tailed bat:

Northern and southern subspecies: Nationally Endangered
Central subspecies: Declining

Species

There are two species of short-tailed bat.

1. 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.

2. Lesser short-tailed bat (Mystacina tuberculata) is an endangered ancient species unique to New Zealand and is found only at a few scattered sites. It is divided into three subspecies:

  • Northern lesser short-tailed bat (Mystacina tuberculata aupourica)
    Found only at two sites in Northland and one on Little Barrier Island
  • Central lesser short-tailed bat (Mystacina tuberculata rhyacobi)
    Known from Northland, the central North Island and Taranaki
  • Southern (or South Island) lesser short-tailed bat (Mystacina tuberculata tuberculata)
    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.

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 recovery plan has a goal of conserving all bat subspecies throughout their present range and establishing new populations where possible.

Bat/pekapeka recovery plan 15 (PDF, 367K)

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.

Our projects:

  • Eglinton Valley monitoring: The populations of endangered South Island lesser short-tailed bats in Fiordland's Eglinton Valley is one of only two known populations on mainland South Island. 
  • Waiohine bats in Tararua Forest Park: We are protecting a colony of around 300 short-tailed bats found in the Wairarapa in 1999. 

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 and assist the department in determining bat distribution throughout New Zealand.


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