Rhinolophus capensisCape horseshoe bat

Geographic Range

The geographic range of Cape horseshoe bats (Rinolophus capensis), includes only the very southern portions of the Ethiopian zoogeographic region. Cape horseshoe bats have a very small distribution and are an endemic species of the Cape Province of Southern Africa. They may also appear in coastal areas of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. They are uncommon on the eastern shores of South Africa. (Brown and Bernard, 1994; Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)


Cape horseshoe bats can be found in tropical coastal habitats of South Africa with underground caves or abandoned mines for roosting. (McDonald, et al., 1990; Taylor, 1999; Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005)

  • Other Habitat Features
  • caves

Physical Description

Cape horseshoe bats are small to medium size bats. Their head and body are typically 23 to 24 mm; their tail is 9 to 13 mm in length, and their forearms are 48 to 52 mm. They have a wingspan of 47 to 52 cm. There is no recorded weight for R. capensis but most other species of Rhinolophus weigh 16.5 to 28 g. (Skinner and Smithers, 1990; Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005)

Their coloration is a dark brown with the bases of their hair typically being slightly lighter in color. Their undersides have a light gray appearance and their wings are a dark brown color. (Taylor, 1999)

Cape horseshoe bats, like other horseshoe bat species, have unique nose leaf structures used in echolocation. Their common name is derived from these horseshoe shaped nose leaf structures. Their nose leaves help in echolocation and also shield the ears from the direct impulses coming back to them from an object in front of them. Their ears are very large and they have short legs that will not support movement on the ground. (McDonald, 2001; Nowak, 1999; Taylor, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    16.5 to 28 g
    0.58 to 0.99 oz
  • Range length
    32 to 37 mm
    1.26 to 1.46 in
  • Range wingspan
    47 to 52 cm
    18.50 to 20.47 in


Rhinolophus capensis are one of the many bat species that use delayed fertilization. Sperm storage in R. capensis is in the male of the species. Typically, spermatogenesis occurs during the spring and early fall months, which in South Africa is between October and May. Sperm are released into the cauda epididymis in April and May. Sperm are then stored in the cauda epididymis during the winter months. During April and May females are in oestrus. Oestrus is the point in the menstrual cycle of female mammals when they typically would be ovulating and when males would copulate with them. In R. capensis, however, copulation and ovulation are put off until August and September (the end of winter hibernation in South Africa). Males mate with as many females as they can in their winter roosts. (Bernard, 1985; Bernard, 1988)

Gestation is about 4 months long at which point a single young is born. Young R. capensis will stay with their mother for about 6 to 8 weeks. At this point they are weaned and they will be left to fend for themselves. Young often stay at the breeding site for quite a while after they are left by their mothers. (Bernard, 1985; Bernard, 1988; Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005)

  • Breeding interval
    Cape horseshoe bats mate once every year.
  • Breeding season
    Mating occurs in August and September.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 1
  • Range gestation period
    3 to 4 months
  • Range weaning age
    6 to 8 weeks
  • Range time to independence
    6 to 8 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Cape horseshoe bat females care for their young after birth, males do not help care for young. Females nurse and protect their young until they are weaned. (Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005)

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


There is no good documentation on the life expectancy of R. capensis. Longevity in other Rhinolophus species is generally 4 to 7 years. (Taylor, 1999)


Cape horseshoe bats are mainly nocturnal, coming out of underground caves in the evening to feed and returning to roost before sunrise. They have been known to migrate short distances to hibernation caves (hibernacula). Population densities of R. capensis were highest during winter hibernation. Cape horseshoe bats have been documented migrating up to 10 km to hibernacula (6.2 mi). (Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005; McDonald, et al., 1990; Taylor, 1999)

Cape horseshoe bats are gregarious, colonial roosters, with numbers in the thousands at certain roost sites. They roost singly and in small or large, loose groups of individuals, sometimes they roost in clusters. They tend to roost in cavities in the ceiling or against walls where they can hang freely. They enfold their bodies with their wings to expose the most naked skin. This is thought to allow their body temperatures to drop low enough to induce torpor. (McDonald, et al., 1990)

Cape horseshoe bats are gregarious which means they enjoy the company of others and are highly social animals. In these caves, you may find large numbers of R. capensis. When roosting they roost singly and in small or large loose groups of individuals, however, they will often roosts in clusters. They tend to roost in cavities in the ceiling or against walls or ceilings of caves where they can freely hang without out any hindrances (McDonald, et al., 1990; Taylor, 1999)

Home Range

Home ranges in Cape horseshoe bats have not been reported. (Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005)

Communication and Perception

Cape horseshoe bats are nocturnal and roost in dark caves. They use echolocation to navigate and locate prey. They may also use some social vocalizations, although this is not well documented. Like most mammals, they use chemical cues to communicate reproductive state and as a way of recognizing individuals, such as mothers recognizing their young. (Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005)

Food Habits

Cape horseshoe bats are insectivores with a high percentage of their diet consisting of beetles. They hunt at night and catch insects in mid flight using their uropatagium to catch prey items. Cape horseshoe bats have short, broad wings that give them the ability to maneuver through dense foliage in flight. They use high echolocation frequencies and fly slowly over dense vegetation to pick off insect prey. Cape horseshoe bats will glean prey and may also hunt from perches. (McDonald, 2001; Skinner and Smithers, 1990; Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects


Predators of Rhinolophus capensis have not been documented. Because they are nocturnal and fly, their most likely predators will be nocturnal raptors, such as owls. Cave dwelling carnivores could also prey on R. capensis when roosting.

Ecosystem Roles

Cape horseshoe bats, like most insectivorous bat species, exert strong influence on insect populations. They are also prey for nocturnal raptors and some other predators. (Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Cape horseshoe bats are efficient at reducing insect populations that may be pests to humans. (Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Although there is no documented negative effect on humans, R. capensis living near urban areas are probably seen as nuisances if they enter human structures. Like other mammal species, Cape horseshoe bats can carry and transmit diseases that affect humans, such as rabies.

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease

Conservation Status

Cape horseshoe bats are considered vulnerable by the IUCN because of their limited distribution and specialized roosting requirements. (Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005)

Other Comments

The type locality of R. capensis is the Cape of Good Hope in the Province of South Africa. It was discovered in 1823. It has one synonym: R. auritus. (Wilson and Reeder, 2005)


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



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


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.

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.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

delayed fertilization

a substantial delay (longer than the minimum time required for sperm to travel to the egg) takes place between copulation and fertilization, used to describe female sperm storage.


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.


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 a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

induced ovulation

ovulation is stimulated by the act of copulation (does not occur spontaneously)


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).

keystone species

a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).


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.


active during the night


having more than one female as a mate at one time

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


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.


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


uses sound above the range of human hearing for either navigation or communication or both


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


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


Bernard, R. 1988. Prolonged Sperm Storage in male Cape horseshoe bats. Die Naturwissenschaften, 75/4: 213-214.

Bernard, R. 1985. Reproduction in the Cape horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus capensis) from South Africa. S.Afr.Zool./S.-Afr. Tydskr. Dierkd., 20/3: 129-135.

Brown, C., R. Bernard. 1994. Thermal Preference of Schreiber's long-fingered (Miniopterus schreibersii) and Cape horseshoe (Rhinolophus capensis) bats. Comparative-Biochemistry-and-Physiology-A-Comparative-Physiology, 107/3: 439-449.

Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, 2005. "Cape horseshoe bat" (On-line). Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. Accessed October 16, 2006 at http://www.answers.com/topic/cape-horseshoe-bat.

McDonald, D. 2001. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. United Kingdom: Barnes and Noble Inc.

McDonald, J., I. Rautenbach, J. Nel. 1990. Roosting Requirements and Behavior of Five Bat Species at De Hoop Guano Cave Southern Cape Province of South Africa. South-African-Journal-of-Wildlife-Research, 20/4: 157-161.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. 6th edition, volume 1. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Skinner, , Smithers. 1990. "Cape Horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus capensis)" (On-line). Africanfauna.com. Accessed October 16, 2006 at http://www.africanfauna.com/capehorseshoebat.php.

Taylor, B. 1999. "Horseshoe bat" (On-line). Answers.com, worlds greatest encyclodictionalmanacapedia. Accessed October 16, 2006 at http://www.answers.com/topic/horseshoe-bat-3.

Wilson, D., D. Reeder. 2005. Mammal Species of the World. 3rd edition, volume 1. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press.