The New Zealand lesser short-tailed bat is remarkable for the fact that it is the most terrestrial bat in the world; more at home on the forest floor than flying through the treetops (4). The tail is free of the wing membrane, and the wings can be folded beneath a leathery membrane when not in use so that the forearms act as front legs (4). The thumb has a large claw with a small talon, a feature unique amongst the smaller bats; the claws of the feet also have talons, to enable this bat to be agile on the ground and in the trees (2). The tiny lesser short-tailed bat is extremely furry and is a greyish brown colour on the upper surface whilst the underparts are paler (2). The muzzle is very short and the nostrils are oblong and vertically aligned (2). It is thought that the lesser short-tailed bat is the sole survivor of an ancient lineage; the greater short-tailed bat (Mystacina robusta) was last sighted in 1967 and is now believed to be Extinct (3).
Very little is know about the fascinating lesser short-tailed bat. Small groups occupy hollow trees and caves to roost and it is thought that bats may use their teeth and claws to excavate burrows in a manner similar to rodents (2). Agile on the ground, short-tailed bats spend large amounts of time of the forest floor, feeding on insects, fruit and nectar (3). It is thought that this species is an important pollinator of the endangered woodrose (Dactylanthus spp.), a parasitic plant of roots on the forest floor (3). During the breeding season, males are thought to compete for females via a lek mating system in which they 'sing' from important positions to attract mates (3).
Endemic to New Zealand, the lesser short-tailed bat is found on the North and South Islands as well as Little Barrier Island and smaller islands in the Stewart group (2). Three subspecies are currently recognised in different areas of the range: the kauri forest short-tailed bat, the volcanic plateau short-tailed bat, and the southern short-tailed bat (3).
The lesser short-tailed bat is under threat from habitat destruction of the native forests within which it is found; 66% of New Zealand's lowland forest has been cleared to make way for development, farming and for timber extraction (4). The only native terrestrial mammal in New Zealand, these bats evolved without the threat of ground predators; however, when Europeans first arrived on the islands they brought with them rats and cats which decimated native fauna(including these unusual bats), and remain a pertinent threat today (3).
The lesser short-tailed bat is fully protected within New Zealand and is listed as a Species of Highest Conservation Priority by the New Zealand Department of Conservation (3). The Department of Conservation Bat Recovery Plan aims to conserve all bat subspecies throughout their present range and to establish new populations where possible. Research into the complex social behaviour of this little-known mammal is also being conducted (3).
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