Lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae)

Lesser long-nosed bat feeding on nectar of an agave plant
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Lesser long-nosed bat fact file

Lesser long-nosed bat description

GenusLeptonycteris (1)

Due to its great agility in flight and preference for nectar, the lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae) has been compared to a hummingbird (3). With rapid beats of its membranous wings, the lesser long-nosed bat is able to hover at a flower, while it uses its slender, elongated muzzle and long tongue to reach the nectar within (3). The tongue is tipped with brush-like papillae that enable it to effectively lap up the nectar (4).

The lesser long-nosed bat hasgreyish or reddish-brown upperparts and paler underparts that are frosted with white (2) (5). It has a small,triangular noseleaf, small eyes and ears, and a tiny tail (5).

The lesser long-nosed bat was once considered to be a subspecies of the slightly larger southern long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris curasoae), but is now classed as a species in its own right (1) (4).

Leptonycteris sanborni.
Body length: 6 - 9 cm (2)
20 - 27 g (2)

Lesser long-nosed bat biology

The lesser long-nosed bat spends the day roosting in abandoned mines and caves in vast, densely packed colonies, that may contain between 1,000 and 100,000 individuals (6). About an hour after sunset, this enormous group of bats emerges to start foraging for nectar, pollen and fruit (2) (6).

The lesser long-nosed bat favours nectar and pollen from agave flowers, and nectar, pollen and fruit from cacti, especially saguaro (Cereus giganteus) and organ-pipe (Stenocereus thurberi) cacti (6). Landing on the flower, or hovering next to it (1), the lesser long-nosed bat uses its long, specialised tongue to lap up the nectar. As it feeds from the flower, its body becomes covered with pollen. The bat uses its feet to groom the pollen from the fur and then ingests the pollen as it licks its claws clean (6). When feeding, the lesser long-nosed bat frequently transfers pollen from one plant to another, and thus is a very important pollinator of cacti and agaves. Through its fruit feeding, it also assists in seed dispersal (6). Insects have also been found in the stomachs of lesser long-nosed bats, although these may have just been accidentally consumed when feeding on nectar (6).

The female lesser long-nosed bat gives birth to a single young each year, after a gestation period of about six months (6). The birth of the young typically coincides with peaks in flower and fruit availability, which varies in timing throughout its range (6).

The young has almost fully-sized feet at birth, enabling it to hang from the roost ceiling while the adults are forgaing. It feeds on its mother’s milk for four to eight weeks (6). The young can fly at around four weeks of age, and begin leaving the roost on evening flights at six to seven weeks (5).

The most northerly populations of the lesser long-nosed bat migrate each year from the south-western United States to northern and central Mexico, following the flowering season of plants such as agaves (6). They leave in September, after breeding, and return in May (2).


Lesser long-nosed bat range

The lesser long-nosed bat occurs in North and Central America. Its range extends from central California, southern Arizona, and south-western New Mexico in the United States, south though Mexico, to Honduras and El Salvador (1).

Populations of the lesser long-nosed bat in the south-western United States migrate each year to northern and central Mexico (6), making it one of only a handful of bat species to undergo such a long distance migration (7).


Lesser long-nosed bat habitat

Arid grasslands, scrubland and oak forests are the preferred habitats of the lesser long-nosed bat in the United States. In Mexico it occurs in arid grasslands, tropical deciduous forest and thorn forest (1) (6). It typically roosts in old mines and caves situated close to areas of agave (Agave species), yucca (Yucca species), saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) and organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) (1).


Lesser long-nosed bat status

The lesser long-nosed bat is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Lesser long-nosed bat threats

The lesser long-nosed bat face numerous threats, including disturbance, loss of cave roosting sites, harvesting of its food plants, and killing for pest control (1) (6).

Its habitat is being lost to human development and urbanisation, the impacts of which are permanent and long-term, and so are of great concern (8). Roost sites are disturbed by recreational-use by humans, development, and, around the Mexico and United States border, occupation by people. The mines and caves in which the lesser long-nosed bat roosts provide shade and protection for people undertaking illegal border crossings or involved with drug trafficking. Occupation of caves by people, who often light fires and leave rubbish, can result in the bats abandoning the roost. Illegal activities can also make the species difficult to research due to safety concerns (8).

Another potential threat is over-harvesting of agaves, which are used to make the alcoholic drinks tequila and mescal, removing an important food resource for the lesser long-nosed bat (8).

In the past, the lesser long-nosed bat was affected by vampire bat eradication programmes. The vampire bat is considered a pest in many regions, and so various control and eradication efforts were implemented. Unfortunately, many of these actions did not differentiate between bat species and lesser long-nosed bats were killed as a result (8).  


Lesser long-nosed bat conservation

The lesser long-nosed bat is listed as an Endangered species in the United States, meaning that the capture or killing of this species is prohibited (5). In addition, many of the bat’s roosts are protected, such as those that occur in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in the United States, and the Isla Tiburon Cave, Pinacate Cave, and Isla San Andres Cave in Mexico (5).

In 1995, a recovery plan for the lesser long-nosed bat was drawn up (5). As a result, numerous further conservation actions were implemented. This included fencing known lesser long-nosed bat roosts, undertaking research to discover new roost sites, habitat restoration work, and long-term monitoring projects (8). There are also ongoing efforts to improve the identification of bat species in vampire bat control programmes (8).

Recommended future actions, to ensure the protection of the lesser long-nosed bat, include working to protect roosts from illegal border activities, and implementing education programs targeted at the general public and those responsible for land management (8). Finally, the protection of food plants within a 50-mile radius around known roosts and migratory paths has been recommended (5).

To learn more about a Whitley Award-winning conservation project for this species, click here.

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This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


Deciduous forest
Forest consisting mainly of deciduous trees, which shed their leaves at the end of the growing season.
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
A fleshy structure that surrounds the nose, common to many bats.
Tiny projections.
An animal that in the act of visiting a plant’s flowers transfers pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2010)
  2. Reid, F.A. (2009) A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico. Second Edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. Corwin, J. (2003) Living on the Edge. Rodale, US.
  4. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  5. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1995) Lesser Long-nosed Bat Recovery Plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Available at:
  6. Cole, F.R. and Wilson, D.E. (2006) Leptonycteris yerbabuenae. Mammalian Species, 797: 1-7.
  7. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum – Migratory Pollinators Program (November, 2010)
  8. Richardson, S. (2005) Lesser Long-nosed Bat – Five-Year Review. US Fish and Wildlife Service, Phoenix, Arizona. Available at:

Image credit

Lesser long-nosed bat feeding on nectar of an agave plant  
Lesser long-nosed bat feeding on nectar of an agave plant

© Barry Mansell / SuperStock



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