The giant noctule (Nyctalus lasiopterus) is the largest bat species in Europe, and one of the largest bats in the world to catch its prey in flight (3)(4). It is also one of the rarest and most poorly known European bats (4)(5)(6).
The fur of the giant noctule is uniformly dark brown on the upperparts and paler on the underparts. The hairs on the neck are longer and slightly darker than on the rest of the body, and the forearm and underside of the wing membrane are furred. The giant noctule has a broad muzzle and large but relatively short ears, with a short, broad, mushroom-shaped tragus. The tip of the tail protrudes around one to two millimetres from the end of the tail membrane (2).
Although it feeds on a variety of insects year-round, the giant noctule is unique among bats in also hunting small birds at certain times of the year. Birds, usually small passerines, are taken during their annual migrations from March to May and August to November, when they are likely to form a major part of the giant noctule’s diet (1)(3)(9)(10). Little is currently known about how the giant noctule captures birds, but it is believed to catch them in flight, possibly at high altitudes, as they migrate at night (3)(9)(11). So far, this is the only bat species known to hunt birds in this way (3)(9).
The giant noctule gives birth to a single pup (1), between late May and early June (4). The females gather in small ‘maternity’ colonies to give birth, while males roost separately (1)(7). The maternity colonies of the giant noctule usually number up to 35 females (1) and have a ‘fission-fusion’ society, in which a group of females is spread over a number of roosting trees and individuals change between the roosts on a daily basis. Overall, its members form a cohesive social group which is distinct from neighbouring groups. Young females return in successive years to breed in the group into which they were born (4).
This species has a patchy distribution throughout central and southern Europe, North Africa and Russia. In Europe, the giant noctule occurs from the Iberian Peninsula to the Balkans, while in North Africa it has been recorded in Morocco, Libya and possibly Algeria. Outside of the Mediterranean, it is found through Asia Minor to the Caucasus region, in Iran and Kazakhstan, and eastwards as far as the Ural Mountains in Russia (1)(7)(8).
The giant noctule is generally found in mixed or deciduous forest and in wooded river valleys (1)(7). It roosts in hollow trees, or occasionally in buildings (1)(6)(7), and is dependent on mature forest and the presence of old trees to provide suitable roosting sites (1). Caves and rock crevices may also sometimes be used for hibernation in winter (1).
The giant noctule has a patchy distribution and relatively few breeding colonies are known, most of which are quite small (1). The main threat to this species is deforestation, with the removal of old trees in particular causing population declines through the loss of roosting sites (1)(6).
In addition to the loss of mature forest, the cutting of old and hollow trees in urban areas is likely to be having a negative impact on the giant noctule (1), especially as groups may rely on a network of different roosting sites (4)(6). In highly fragmented environments, individuals may be forced to travel large distances between suitable roosting and foraging areas (5).
Other potential threats to the giant noctule are poorly understood, but wind farms may pose a collision risk in some areas (1), and this species may also be affected by a reduction in its insect prey (7). In 2005, all pups at one of two known giant noctule colonies in Spain were found dead, but the cause was unknown (1).
There are no specific conservation measures currently targeted at this rare bat (1). However, it is protected under a range of national and international legislation (1)(12)(13)(14), and occurs in a number of national parks and other protected areas throughout its range (1).
Two important colonies of the giant noctule occur in south-western Spain, but are not located within protected areas and are in need of conservation attention (1). Proposed conservation measures for these colonies include providing artificial roost sites, which would offer a temporary solution until long-term forest regeneration can be achieved (5). Further research is also needed into the giant noctule’s ecology and populations, and more information is required on the threats it faces (1).
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Forest consisting mainly of deciduous trees, which shed their leaves at the end of the growing season.
A winter survival strategy in which an animal’s metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. Whilst hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer.
A group of more than 5,000 species of small to medium-sized birds, sometimes known as perching birds or song birds, which have widely varied plumage and shape. They all have three toes pointing forward and one directed backward, which assists with perching.
A soft cartilaginous projection extending in front of the external opening of the ear. In bats, it plays an important role in filtering returning echoes in echolocation.
Yiğit, N., Bulut, Ş., Karataş, A., Çam, P. and Saygili, F. (2008) Contribution to the distribution, morphological peculiarities, and karyology of the greater noctule, Nyctalus lasiopterus (Chiroptera: Vespertilionidae), in Southwestern Turkey. Turkish Journal of Zoology, 32: 53-58.
Ibáñez, C., Juste, J., García-Mudarra, J.L. and Agirre-Mendi, P.T. (2001) Bat predation on nocturnally migrating birds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98(17): 9700-9702.
Popa-Lisseanu, A.G., Bontadina, F., Mora, O. and Ibáñez, C. (2008) Highly structured fission-fusion societies in an aerial-hawking carnivorous bat. Animal Behaviour, 75: 471-482.
Popa-Lisseanu, A.G., Bontadina, F. and Ibáñez, C. (2009) Giant noctule bats face conflicting constraints between roosting and foraging in a fragmented and heterogeneous landscape. Journal of Zoology, 278: 126-133.
Estók, P., Gombkötő, P. and Cserkész, T. (2007) Roosting behaviour of the greater noctule Nyctalus lasiopterus Schreber, 1780 (Chiroptera, Vespertilionidae) in Hungary as revealed by radio-tracking. Mammalia, 71: 86-88.
Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
Wilson, D.E. and Reeder, D.M. (2005) Mammal Species of the World. A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. Third Edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. Available at: http://www.bucknell.edu/MSW3/
Popa-Lisseanu, A.G., Delgado-Huertas, A., Forero, M.G., Rodríguez, A., Arlettaz, R. and Ibáñez, C. (2007) Bats’ conquest of a formidable foraging niche: the myriads of nocturnally migrating songbirds. PLoS ONE, 2(2): e205.
Dondini, G. and Vergari, S. (2000) Carnivory in the greater noctule bat (Nyctalus lasiopterus) in Italy. Journal of Zoology, 251: 233-236.
Ibáñez, C., Juste, J., García-Mudarra, J.L. and Agirre-Mendi, P.T. (2003) Feathers as indicator of a bat’s diet: a reply to Bontadina & Arlettaz. Functional Ecology, 17(1): 143-145.
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