Madeira pipistrelle (Pipistrellus maderensis)

Madeira pipistrelle, head detail
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Madeira pipistrelle fact file

Madeira pipistrelle description

GenusPipistrellus (1)

A small bat with short, broad ears (3), the Madeira pipistrelle (Pipistrellus maderensis) belongs to the second largest mammalian family in the world, the Vespertilionidae (4). It has a fairly uniformly brownish coat, and the female Madeira pipistrelle is usually larger than the male (2).

The Madeira pipistrelle is very similar to Kuhl’s pipistrelle (Pipistrellus kuhlii), a widespread species from which the Madeira pipistrelle is thought to have possibly originated (5). The Madeira pipistrelle can be distinguished from its close relative by a small, constantly visible upper tooth and by the less pointed tragus in front of the ears (2) (5). Madeira pipistrelles from La Palma and Tenerife have been known to have light wing markings similar to those of Kuhl’s pipistrelle (6).

Pipistrelle De Madère.
Murciélago De Madeira.
Length: 3 - 3.5 cm (2)
2.9 - 5.7 g (2)

Madeira pipistrelle biology

Pipistrellus bats are usually among the first bat species to appear in the evening and this, along with their jerky, erratic flight, is usually considered one of the defining characteristics of the genus (3). Like other pipistrelles, the Madeira pipistrelle is mainly insectivorous, feeding mostly on flying insects such as small moths and flies (1) (4).

The Madeira pipistrelle uses echolocation to detect its prey, emitting calls at a frequency of around 45 to 47 kilohertz (2). The sound bounces off surrounding objects, including insects, enabling the bat to accurately pinpoint the position of its prey (4). The Madeira pipistrelle probably catches its prey by aerial hawking, whereby the bat catches flying insects on the wing, or it may pluck prey from vegetation or trawl the surface of water while in flight (4).

In addition to using echolocation, the Madeira pipistrelle will broadcast a range of social calls. These calls are produced more frequently late at night or when temperatures are lower, at times when competition for prey is more intense (5). It is thought that social calls are used primarily as a way of defending a feeding patch, but they may also be used in general communication and for attracting a mate (4) (5).

Like most bats, the Madeira pipistrelle is likely to roost in a range of sites, from tree hollows to rock crevices, buildings and even bird’s nests (1) (2) (4). Species in the genus Pipistrellus are not particularly gregarious and will usually roost alone or in small groups. Some species do however form small maternity colonies (3) (10), and pregnant females frequently segregate into single-sex groups (10). The maternity sites of bats are often used year after year (10).

Very little is known about the breeding biology of the Madeira pipistrelle. Mating is likely to occur in late summer, probably between September and October (9). Like many bats, the reproductive cycle is probably interrupted by a period of hibernation through the winter (10). Sperm transferred by the male during mating is stored in the female reproductive tract during hibernation, with fertilisation of the eggs delayed until the spring (10). Female Madeira pipistrelles have been observed suckling their young, which are fed on the female’s milk, in June and July (9). Like other pipistrelles, the Madeira pipistrelle gives birth to one or two young (3) (10).


Madeira pipistrelle range

A very sedentary species (5), the Madeira pipistrelle is restricted to the island of Madeira and the western Canary Islands of La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and Tenerife (1) (2) (6) (7) (8).

Although it has not yet been confirmed, it is possible that pipistrelle bats found in the Azores (on Santa Maria, Flores, Corvo, Graciosa and San Jorge), also belong to this species (1) (5).


Madeira pipistrelle habitat

The Madeira pipistrelle is found in a wide range of habitats, occurring from sea level up to 2,150 metres (2) (9). It forages over aquatic habitats, such as lakes, ponds and wetlands, as well as woodland and farmland (1). It is also known to forage around towns and villages (9). This species appears to prefer lowland habitats on Madeira (1).

The Madeira pipistrelle shelters in the cracks and crevices of cliffs, in nest boxes, and under roofs and arches in old abandoned buildings. It has also been found to take refuge behind metal plates installed on the trunks of the Canary Island palm (Phoenix canariensis) on the island of La Gomera (2) (9).


Madeira pipistrelle status

The Madeira pipistrelle is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered


Madeira pipistrelle threats

Although the Madeira pipistrelle is seemingly well adapted to man-made or human influenced habitats (1), the loss or degradation of its natural habitat is likely to pose a threat to its survival (1) (2) (9). Agricultural pesticide use also presents an additional risk, as the toxic chemicals used in farming can contaminate the prey on which these bats feed (1) (2).

Disturbance to roosts of the Madeira pipistrelle, especially in buildings, is another concern as bat colonies tend to be less successful in areas with increased levels of disruption (1). Similarly, individuals of this species have been known to become trapped in newly-constructed buildings, especially if work has been halted and then resumed after some time (2).

Rain gauges, which have been installed in forests on El Hierro, La Palma and Tenerife to measure precipitation levels, are known to accidentally trap the Madeira pipistrelle, resulting in death due to starvation (2). The black rat (Rattus rattus) in forests has also been identified as a potential threat to the Madeira pipistrelle (2) (9).


Madeira pipistrelle conservation

The Madeira pipistrelle is protected through the Bern Convention (11), and by its listing on Annex IV of the EU Habitats and Species Directive, which means that protective measures must be taken to ensure its conservation (12). It is also protected under the Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (EUROBATS), which aims to protect all 52 species of bats in Europe through legislation, education, conservation measures and international co-operation (13)

Recommended conservation measures for this species include identifying, protecting and monitoring its roosts (1), as well as preserving and restoring areas of its natural habitat (1) (9). A reduction in the use of pesticides throughout the Madeira pipistrelle’s range has also been called for (1), as well as further studies into the toxicity of different pesticides and how they affect bat survival (2) (9).

Modifying rain gauges, so that bats are able to escape if they become caught, would also improve survival in this species (2), while installing additional bat boxes for shelter could also be beneficial to its population (2) (9).

Further studies into the biology, ecology and genetics of the Madeira pipistrelle would improve the understanding of this species and be advantageous for the development of any future conservation measures (1). Additionally, a public awareness campaign aimed at reducing disturbance of breeding colonies in private houses would greatly benefit this species (1) (2).


Find out more

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Detecting objects by reflected sound. Used by bats and odontocete cetaceans (toothed whales, dolphins and porpoises) for orientation and to detect and locate prey.
The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
A winter survival strategy in which an animal’s metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. While hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer.
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.


  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2011)
  2. Trujillo, D (2008) Pipistrellus maderensis (Dobson, 1878) Murciélago de Madeira. In: Palomo, L.J., Gisbert, J. and Blanco, J.C. (Eds.) Atlas y Libro Rojo de Mamíferos Terrestres de España. Dirección General para la Biodiversidad-SECEM-SECEMU, Madrid. Available at:
  3. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  4. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Russo, D., Teixeira, S., Cistrone, L., Jesus, J., Teixeira, D., Frietas, T. and Jones, G. (2009) Social calls are subject to stabilizing selection in insular bats. Journal of Biogeography, 36: 2212-2221.
  6. Pestano, J., Brown, R.P., Suárez, N.M. and Fajardo, S. (2003) Phylogeography of pipistrelle-like bats within the CanaryIslands, based on mtDNA sequences. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 26: 56–63.
  7. 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:
  8. Masseti, M. (2010) Mammals of the Macaronesian islands (the Azores, Madeira, the Canary and Cape Verde islands): redefinition of the ecological equilibrium. Mammalia, 74(1): 3-34.
  9. Trujillo, D. and Barone, C. (1991) La Fauna de Quiropteros del Archipelago Canario. In: Benzal, J. and La Paz, O. (Eds.) Los Murcielagos de Espana y Portugal. ICONA, Madrid, Spain.
  10. Hutson, A.M., Mickleburgh, S.P., and Racey, P.A. (2001) Microchiropteran Bats: Global Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Chiroptera Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
  11. Europe: Bern Convention (October, 2011)
  12. EU Habitats Directive (October, 2011)
  13. Council of Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (Eurobats) (October, 2011)

Image credit

Madeira pipistrelle, head detail  
Madeira pipistrelle, head detail

© José Jesus, Tamira Freitas and Sérgio teixeira

José Jesus
University of Madeira
Campus da Penteada


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