Taphozous mauritianusMauritian tomb bat

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Geographic Range

Mauritian tomb bats (Taphozous mauritianus) are found widely distributed throughout the middle to southern regions of Africa, as well as on several offshore islands. Individuals have also been recorded on the islands of Madagascar and Bourbon, as well as a handful of islands in the Indian Ocean. (Dengis, 1996)

Habitat

Although generally found in moist, open habitats, T. mauritianus can also be found in savanna regions south of the Sahara that receive at least 500 mm of rainfall each year. Records of T. mauritianus in areas with less rainfall are usually close to swamps and rivers. These bats may be dependent on open water for hunting. (Dengis, 1996; Fenton, et al., 1980; Skinner and Chimimba, 2005)

Physical Description

Mauritian tomb bats are distinguishable from other bats by an entirely white ventral surface, combined with mixed-gray dorsal pelage. They have sleek, short hair. Their wings are long and narrow, generally with a pale, parchment-like coloration, and are attached at the ankle. The long, narrow tip of the wing is shortened somewhat to facilitate crawling when the wings are folded. The ears are erect, triangle-shaped, with rounded edges and no papillae on the inner margins. (Dengis, 1996)

Mauritian tomb bats do not exhibit sexual dimorphism in coloration or size, although there is evidence of geographic variation in size. In South Africa, the measurements (in mm) of males and females, respectively, are: length of head and body, 101 to 109, 105 to 116; length of forearm, 61 to 63, 61 to 66; and length of tail, 17 to 25, 20 to 23. A typical male body mass (in g) in Southern Africa is 20 to 36, while an average female mass is 27.5 to 31.6. The average wingspan is 181 to 204 mm. (Dengis, 1996)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    20 to 36 g
    0.70 to 1.27 oz
  • Range length
    101 to 116 mm
    3.98 to 4.57 in
  • Range wingspan
    181 to 204 mm
    7.13 to 8.03 in

Reproduction

There is little published research dealing specifically with the mating systems of T. mauritianus. It is likely that they are similar to other Taphozous species in this regard, with individuals engaging in polygynous relationships during mating seasons. (Bernard and Cumming, 1997; Dengis, 1996)

There is conflicting evidence regarding reproductive cycles of T. mauritianus. Some research suggests the breeding season is in December, with births in April to May. Other research suggests that they are either polyestrous or breed throughout the year in some regions of Africa, with births occurring from March to April, as well as November to December. Given the wide geographic range of this species, it is likely that different reproductive strategies occur in different parts of the range. Females give birth to a single young, which clings to its mother’s abdomen at all times until it is old enough to fly and forage on its own. (Bernard and Cumming, 1997; Dengis, 1996)

  • Breeding interval
    Mauritian tomb bats breed up to twice a year in some parts of their range.
  • Breeding season
    Birth generally occur from March to April and November to December, although local patterns may vary.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 (high)
  • Average gestation period
    2 months

Parental investment in T. mauritianus is restricted to the female of any mating pair, and is similiar to the majority of other bat species. The female gives birth to a single young, with remains with the mother at all times until it is able to fly on its own. Although there is little to no research in this particular area, it is possible that this time spent with the mother allows the offspring time to observe hunting behavior and to learn other necessary behaviors for later in life. (Dengis, 1996)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

There is little research information available regarding the lifespan of T. mauritianus in the wild or in captivity. (Dengis, 1996)

Behavior

Day roosts are always chosen so that take-off is unhindered, and may be in the open but out of direct sunlight. When disturbed, Mauritian tomb bats sometimes takes refuge in a tree near their normal roost, or will simply scurry sideways across the roost until they are out of sight of the intruder. Roosts are likely to be recolonized on subsequent years, and these sites generally become stained with a mixture of urine and gular sac secretions over time. (Dengis, 1996)

Mauritian tomb bats usually wait for complete darkness to fall before beginning to forage. They detect their prey at long range over open areas, never flying above the tops of nearby trees. When hunting, they make periodic dives of up to 10 meters. With each dive they increase the rate of echolocation calling, possibly to confound moths that would be able to detect the frequencies used by a foraging bat. (Dengis, 1996; Fenton, et al., 1980)

Home Range

It is thought that T. mauritianus individuals rarely travel far from their day roosting site, although little research has been conducted on their movement patterns. (Dengis, 1996)

Communication and Perception

Mauritian tomb bats communicate primarily through audible calls, chirruping while at rest but screeching when encountering aggressive situations. Whenever another member of a roosting group approaches, the members of the group already in the roost will emit three-syllable calls at 2-3 second intervals. The reason for these particular social calls is currently unknown. Like most other mammals, they are likely to use chemical cues and touch as well in social communication. (Dengis, 1996; Fenton and Bell, 1981; Fenton, et al., 1980)

Mauritian tomb bats perceive their environment in different ways depending on the amount of light available. During daylight hours, they rely primarily on vision to identify intruders or prey that come too close to the roost. Once darkness has completely fallen, they rely on orally emitted echolocation sounds to forage. (Dengis, 1996; Fenton and Bell, 1981; Fenton, et al., 1980)

Food Habits

Although they have been observed to dart from their perches during daylight hours to capture and eat prey items that wander too close, T. mauritianus is primarily a night-foraging species. Moths found close to their daytime roosts are the staple of their diet, supplemented by termites, butterflies, and a variety of other insects. They typically do not return to their roost to feed during nighttime foraging, which is evidenced by the lack of prey debris or droppings beneath roosting points. (Dengis, 1996; Fenton and Bell, 1981; Fenton, et al., 1980)

Mauritian tomb bats use vision to pick out potential prey during daylight hours, rather than echolocation. At night, they use orally emitted echolocation sounds to detect prey at long range over open areas. (Dengis, 1996; Fenton, et al., 1980)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects

Predation

Snakes as well as nocturnal raptors occasionally prey on Mauritian tomb bats, although specific predators are rarely named in the literature. Mauritian tomb bats occasionally host parasites in the genus Anchitrema. These parasites may be transferred to them by African sheath-tailed bats, Coleura afra, which sometimes roost with Mauritian tomb bats. (Dengis, 1996; Skinner and Chimimba, 2005)

Ecosystem Roles

Mauritian tomb bats are important in controlling pest populations in the ecosystems they occupy. They consume large numbers of insects nightly. Mauritian tomb bats also host parasites in the genus Anchitrema. (Dengis, 1996; Fenton, et al., 1980)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Anchitrema

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Mauritian tomb bats help humans by controlling pest populations. The insects they consume may carry diseases that harm humans or may simply be considered nuisance species. (Dengis, 1996; Fenton, et al., 1980)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of T. mauritianus on humans.

Conservation Status

Mauritian tomb bats are widespread throughout Africa and neighboring islands. They are not listed as requiring special conservation action under any current programs.

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Chris Francis (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor, instructor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Glossary

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

echolocation

The process by which an animal locates itself with respect to other animals and objects by emitting sound waves and sensing the pattern of the reflected sound waves.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Bernard, R., G. Cumming. 1997. African Bats: Evolution of Reproductive Patterns and Delays. The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 72: 253-274.

Dengis, C. 1996. Taphozous mauritianus. Mammalian Species, No. 522: 1-5.

Fenton, M., G. Bell. 1981. Recognition of Species of Insectivorous Bats by Their Echolocation Calls. Journal of Mammology, Vol. 62: 233-243.

Fenton, M., G. Bell, D. Thomas. 1980. Echolocation and feeding behaviour of Taphozous Mauritianus. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 58: 1774-1777.

Skinner, D., C. Chimimba. 2005. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.