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Friday, Feb. 15, 2002


Greater horseshoe bat

* Japanese name: Kikugashira-koumori
* Scientific name: Rhinolophus ferrumequinum
* Description: Quite a large bat, the greater horseshoe bat is a buff-brown color, body length 60-80 cm, wing length 60-65 cm. Its distinguishing feature, however, is the complex and grotesque horseshoe-shaped nose that gives the bat its name (the Japanese name means "chrysanthemum bat"). This elaborate rosette of skin is an essential part of the bat's echolocation system. The bat emits high-pitched squeaks through its "noseleaf" and picks up the echoes with its huge, sensitive ears.
* Where to find them: From Hokkaido to Kyushu. In winter, the bats hibernate in roosts in caves, mines, cellars and tunnels, and sometimes in the roofs of old buildings. Bats wake up regularly during the winter, and if the weather is mild they will pop out for a quick feed. In summer, the bats roost mainly in buildings. They are most active just after sunset, when they leave the roosts to hunt for an hour; they hunt again just before dawn. In late summer, they stay out all night.
* Food: Insects. Favorite food items include cockchafer beetles, dung beetles, large moths and caddis flies. Horseshoe bats fly low to hunt, and most insects are taken in flight -- though sometimes a brave bat will take a beetle directly from its dung ball.
* Special features: Greater horseshoe bats are polygynous, which means that male bats mate with many females. But whereas in most polygynous species, the male is bigger than the female, in horseshoe bats the male is the smaller sex. Females live together in roosts, but males are solitary. In autumn, females visit male territorial sites and mate with them. Male territories comprise of small caves or discrete parts of underground systems. After mating, the sperm is stored inside the females through winter, and fertilization takes place in the spring. Bats have to fly while pregnant, so they only ever have one pup at a time. The female gives birth hanging from her feet; the baby bat is born into her folded wings, which overlap to form a leathery cradle. The pup is suckled for the first five weeks of its life, when it starts to fly and catch insects.

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