MystacinidaeNew Zealand short-tailed bats

This family is composed of a single genus containing two species (one of which may be extinct). Mystacinids are found only on the islands of New Zealand.

These bats are unique in their ability to hide their wings beneath a leathery membrane when not in use. Partially as a result of this adaptation, mystacinids are unusually well adapted to foraging on the ground, and spend a large percentage of their waking time hunting prey on the forest floor. They are also known to burrow. They also have very tough wing membranes and relatively broad wings, which allow them to take off from a flat surface.

Mystacinids are medium-sized bats with a long snout. The nose projects well over the lips, and the slit-like nostrils are located in a pad covered with stiff, short bristles. The ears are moderately large and contain a long, narrow and pointed tragus. Their tails project above the surface of the uropatagium for a short distance. The legs are short but strongly built, and the feet are broad and end in sharp, strong claws (the claw on their thumb is also unusually well developed). The fibulae are unusually well developed, which probably contributes to the strength and manueverability of the hind legs. Short-tailed bats are gray-brown or black-brown in color. Individual hairs are tipped grayish, giving the bat a "frosted" appearance. The fur is somewhat velvety in texture.

The skulls of mystacinids have well developed premaxillae, the palatal branches of which isolate two lateral foramina. Their teeth are dilambdadont; the dental formula is 1/1, 1/1, 2/2, 3/3 = 28.

Unlike some other bats found in New Zealand, mystacinids do not experience prolonged hibernation and are sometimes observed actively foraging on warm winter nights. Their diet includes resting and flying arthropods, and lesser amounts of fruit, nectar and pollen. They sometimes also forage on carrion. Roosting mystacinids are typically found in large trees and colony size ranges greatly.

The known extant species is at risk from rats (not native to New Zealand) and from the clearing of forests.

Recent molecular analysis has moved these bats from the superfamily Vespertilionoidea to the superfamily Phyllostomatoidea, but the phylogenetic affinities of the mystacinids are not well understood. No fossils have been discovered.

References and literature cited:

Anderson, S. and J. K. Jones, Jr., 1984. Orders and Families of Recent Mammals of the World. John Wiley and Sons, New York. 686pp.

Fenton, M. B., P. Racey, and J.M. V. Rayner (eds.), 1987. Recent Advances in the Study of Bats . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Hill, J. E. and J. D. Smith, 1992. Bats: A Natural History . University of Texas Press, Austin.

Nowak, Ronald M., 1994. Walker's Bats of the World . Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Ransome, Roger, 1990. The Natural History of Hibernating Bats . Christopher Helm, London.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder. 1993. Mammal Species of the World, A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. 2nd edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. xviii+1206 pp.


Bret Weinstein (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (author), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


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.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


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


uses touch to communicate