Heller’s broad-nosed bat, Platyrrhinus helleri, is the most widespread and common species in the genus Platyrrhinus. It can be found from the southern part of Mexico through Panama, into South America and down to the Amazon Basin of Brazil, the northern region of Peru, and Trinidad. (Ferrell and Wilson, 1991; Velazco, et al., 2010)
Platyrrhinus helleri is usually found in warm, wet environments, like tropical rainforests and evergreen forests, but has also been found in drier places, like dry deciduous forests, and regions of arid and semi-arid vegetation. Individuals have been captured in Belize and Peru in mist nets at an elevation of 150 to 860 m along the Amazon River basin. However, these bats are most frequently caught in the tropical sub-canopy of Panama and banana plantations of Venezuela and Nicaragua. They roost or make their nests in dark moist places like caves, tunnels, hollow trees and in thick foliage, particularly in tents that they make out of thick leaves and palm fronds. They also inhabit man-made and disturbed areas like abandoned buildings, culverts, and agricultural areas, like fruit plantations. (Ferrell and Wilson, 1991; Tello and Velazco, 2003)
Along with other species in the subfamily Stenodermatinae, P. helleri constructs cone shaped tents at the ends of leaves by chewing on the midrib down the center of the leaf causing the tips to droop down; the bat then roosts under the resulting enclosure. The leaves selected by these species are typically elliptical in shape and are distributed radially or alternately around the plant’s stem. These tents have been found on leaves of many different large-leafed species including Syagrus picrophylla, Sabal glaucescens, Eirmocephala megaphylla and plants in the genus Heliconia. The tents described by Tello and Velazco (2003) were an average of 50 cm long with the opening diameter an average of 37 cm. (Ferrell and Wilson, 1991; Tello and Velazco, 2003)
Platyrrhinus helleri is relatively small in body size; the average body length from nose to tail is 58.2 mm and total average body weight is 15.6 g. It has a fleshy protuberance sticking up from the nose (i.e., nose leaf) that is sharply pointed and has a fleshy fringe that runs along the edges. The upper lip is slightly rounded while the lower lip has three bumps with the biggest in the middle and a row of warts along the lip. Its dental formula is I 2/2 C 1/1 P 2/2 M 3/3 for a total of 32 teeth. Of the four upper incisors, the two inside ones are larger than the two outside ones. The lower outer incisors fill in the gap between the upper incisors and canines. The head of this bat can be distinguished from that of close relatives by its elongated rostrum (snout) and narrow zygoma (head width). The most noticeable characteristic is the four white lines on its face; two from the corners of the mouth to under the ear, and two from the nose to just above the ear. Its ears are rounded and are 17.1 mm long on average with a short triangular shaped tragus, which has a serrated outer edge and is about one-fourth (4.3 mm) to one-third (5.7 mm) the length of the ear. (Ferrell and Wilson, 1991)
The dorsal hair is described as bicolored, light to medium brown, with a distinct white line on the midline from the top of the head to the tail. The ventral hair is a lighter shade than the dorsal hair and does not feature a white line. The wing membrane is black to brown-black and has thin buff hair out to just past the elbow; average wingspan is 304 mm. This bat has broad wings that are roughly elliptical in shape. The stretch of patagium between the hind limbs (i.e., uropatagium) is short and V-shaped, and has very thin hair save for the line of stiff white hairs along the outside edge. That differentiates this bat from a close relative, the tent-making bat, Uroderma bilobatum. Platyrrhinus helleri has no tail and the hind limbs and feet are covered in hair to the claws. (Ferrell and Wilson, 1991)
The mating system of P. helleri has not been fully described, but information is available from related species. Most phyllostomid bats roost with only the same sex until mating season occurs at which time males claim a territory and make roosts. A close relative in the same subfamily, the tent-making bat, Uroderma bilobatum, mates in a group of one male and multiple females; males defend a preferred roost site and groups of females move from roost to roost. In another closely related species, Seba’s short-tailed bat, Carollia perspicillata, the territorial males (possibly the oldest ones) that claim roost space chase away the younger “bachelors” and fight with their male neighbors to establish a boundary. This fighting starts with aggressive displays like wing shaking, and shrieking, and quickly escalates, involving striking the opposing bat with forearms and closed wings, a behavior that Fleming refers to as “boxing”. (Crichton and Krutzsch, 2000; Fleming, 1988)
Heller’s broad-nosed bats reproduce between the months of March and August. In the neotropics, that corresponds to the end of the dry season and the middle of the wet season. Platyrrhinus helleri is considered bimodally polyestrous like most phyllostomids. Polyestrous means that a female will go through two or more periods of reproductive activity or pregnancy in a year and bimodally means that the female can be in two stages of reproduction (i.e. pregnancy and lactation) at once. Sexual maturity is reached at about nine months of age (381 days) in all female leaf-nosed bats. Chiropterans, in comparison to other small mammals, have relatively long gestation periods and give birth to large offspring relative to the size of the mother. The length of gestation for P. helleri is not determined, but the closely related Seba’s short-tailed bat has an average gestation period of 115 days or about 4 months. As with most frugivorous bats, lactation (the most metabolically expensive time of rearing young) occurs during the peak of fruit production which in the tropics is during the rainy season and is little associated with temperature. (Crichton and Krutzsch, 2000; Nowak, 1999)
In P. helleri, as in most other bats, the care of young is provided by females from gestation to weaning. She provides the chemical and physical influences, both in and out of the womb, that help a fetus reach adulthood. Young are born functionally altricial, meaning they are naked and not very good at controlling their own body temperature, therefore the mother must supply any body heat she can spare. Studies of a variety of phyllostomid bats suggest that mother-infant recognition is established through olfactory and auditory cues (i.e., using smells and sounds). (Crichton and Krutzsch, 2000; Fleming, 1988; Hutson, et al., 2001)
Not much is known about the lifespan or longevity of P. helleri, however most microbats have a surprisingly long lifespan for their size. A closely related species in the Family Phyllostomidae, the greater spear-nosed bat, holds the record for this family at 18 years in the wild. Another closely related species to P. helleri, the common vampire bat, lives to be about 15 years of age in the wild, and up to 19 years in captivity. Platyrrhinus helleri is expected to have a life history that is similar to these two species. (Nowak, 1994)
Platyrrhinus helleri is nocturnal and is most active from the late evening to approximately one hour before dawn. These bats do not hibernate or undergo torpor when their body temperature drops (except for some documented cases in a lab setting). They are social, with individuals living in small groups that roost in the foliage or in caves (troglophilic). Males are probably territorial, defending mating harems and their own “tent”. (Ferrell and Wilson, 1991; Velazco, et al., 2010)
Communication in these bats, as well as others in the family Phyllostomidae, includes the use of ultrasonic sounds. When a young bat is separated from its mother, it gives off “double note” calls that the mother recognizes and follows to find her baby. Amongst other young bats, a mother can identify hers by olfactory cues as well. Adult male bats use various visual signals to communicate aggression. Adult bats also communicate by auditory means, represented in the behavior Fleming refers to as “mobbing”. A captured or distressed bat makes very loud sounds to signal other bats (even different species) to assist by rapidly flying around the predator. All phyllostomid bats have scent glands located on the lips, throat, neck and shoulders that are probably used in olfactory communication. (Fenton, 1985; Fleming, 1988)
Heller’s Broad-Nosed Bats are primarily frugivorous, meaning they feed on fruit, and have a particularly strong appetite for figs of the genus Ficus. Other common fruits eaten by frugivorous phyllostomid bats include Piper amalago, Solanum hazenii, Cecropia peltata, Muntingia calabura in the wet season, and Piper marginatum, Piper jacquemontianum, Acacia collinsii, Karwinskia calderoni in the dry season. Many of these fruits are specifically bat pollinated and open their flowers at night to draw the pollinators in with nectar. These bats are canopy frugivores, meaning they feed on fruits in the canopy and sub-canopy. Insects have been found in the stomach content of some frugivorous phyllostomid bats, indicating that they are also insectivorous. (Ferrell and Wilson, 1991; Fleming, 1988)
Most phyllostomid bats, being of small body size (less than 100 g), need to ingest a large amount of food to maintain body temperature, and nutrient and protein levels. Platyrrhinus helleri and other fruit-eating phyllostomid bats have three distinct ways of consuming fruit: 1) plucking the fruit right off the branch to be eaten elsewhere, 2) briefly landing on the branch and plucking off the fruit or biting off a portion to be taken elsewhere, and 3) hanging on a branch near the fruit or hanging directly on the fruit to eat in that location. (Ferrell and Wilson, 1991; Fleming, 1988)
Like other phyllostomid bats, Platyrrhinus helleri is probably preyed upon by snakes, raptors, arboreal mammals and even other bats. The northern pine snake in Mexico and bat falcons in Central and South America are known to feed on bats in those respective areas. A close relative of P. helleri, the white-lined broad-nosed bat, has been recorded as being preyed upon by the puff-crested jay. Fleming documents several predators of Seba’s short tailed bat, another relative of P. helleri. These include the lyre snake, snakes in the Boa, the collared forest falcon, the barn owl, the grey four-eyed opossum, the Central American wooly opossum, the kinkajou, many species of monkeys, and the spectral bat. (Farina, et al., 2011; Fleming, 1988; Hutson, et al., 2001)
These bats likely play a big part in seed dispersal of the fruits they eat. Also being somewhat insectivorous, they might influence insect populations in the surrounding area. They provide food for other vertebrates and hosts for some external parasites. The use of multiple widespread roosting and feeding sites by P. helleri and its close relatives provides for nutrient distribution throughout the ecosystems. (Hutson, et al., 2001; Kasso and Balakrishnan, 2013)
Bats in the family Phyllostomidae are common indicator species in the neotropics, i.e. they tend to show a strong response to anthropogenic habitat loss and thus reflect the general 'health' of the ecosystem. Frugivorous species such as P. helleri disperse the seeds of some very important tropical cash crops such as Cavendish bananas, mangoes and blue agave. These bats, and any that live in caves for that matter, produce a concentrated source of guano, an agricultural commodity that is high in essential nutrients and used as very effective fertilizer for crops. Throughout the range of all chiropterans, tourism is a growing hobby and bat emergence from any cave can draw paying viewers. (Fenton, et al., 1992)
Frugivorous bats, like Heller’s broad-nosed bat, can have a negative effect on agricultural fruit in the tropics by consuming some of the crop before it is harvested. Bats, in general, sometimes spread human-communicable diseases very rapidly due to their ability to fly. (Kasso and Balakrishnan, 2013)
Platyrrhinus helleri is listed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Lower Risk: least concern. (Hutson, et al., 2001)
Michael Murphy (author), Michigan State University, Barbara Lundrigan (editor), Michigan State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.
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.
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease
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.
humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.
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.
parental care is carried out by females
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
an animal that mainly eats fruit
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.
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).
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.
having more than one female as a mate at one time
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.
breeding is confined to a particular season
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
uses touch to communicate
Living on the ground.
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
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.
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.
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.
uses sound above the range of human hearing for either navigation or communication or both
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
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