Canterbury Endemic: Akaroa Daisy, Celmisia mackaui


Species Profile: Long-tailed bat

Long-tailed bat, Chalinolobus tuberculatus

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Chalinolobus tuberculatus

Written by Amelia Woods (Lincoln University)

July 2005

Edited by Michael Hudson, Lincoln University,


Taxonomy sources: King (1990)


Species Description

The long-tailed bat is unique, in that it is one of New Zealand’s three native land mammals. Of the other two species, both being bats, only one (Mystacina tuberculata) is still alive today. The long-tailed bat is relatively small, with the adult weight ranging from 7–10 grams, and with a wingspan of approximately 260mm (King, 1990). The dorsal side is covered with a fine, silky hair, which ranges in colour from black to a dark reddish-brown (King 1990). The underside is covered with a grey-black hair, while the wing and ‘v’ shaped tail membranes are naked (King, 1990). The bone structure of the long-tailed bat is described by King (1990) as slender and long, apart from a small thumb protruding from the wrist which has a sharp and curved claw. Differentiation between sexes is obvious, due to the short pendant penis of the male (King, 1990).

Similar species

The short-tailed bat (Mystacina tuberculata, Gray 1843) is the only other bat species still present in New Zealand (King 1990). The short-tailed bat is slightly larger than the long-tailed bat, as can be seen in Figure 1. King (1990) describes the short-tailed bat as “robust and chunky” with reddish brown hair. The short-tailed bat can be distinguished by the lack of tail, prominent ears, and slower, less erratic flight (King, 1990). The short-tailed bat is less common than the long-tailed bat and rarely seen as it does not emerge from its roost until well after dark (King, 1990).

The long-tailed bat is referred to by some as a nocturnal fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa). Because of the similar unpredictable flight pattern, the two are sometimes confused (Griffiths, 1996).

Figure 1. The three New Zealand bats (dorsal view) showing their relative size (Daniel & Williams, 1984)

Geographic Distribution

Full natural and naturalised range

The long-tailed bat is endemic to New Zealand, although the genus Chalinolobus is found throughout Australia (Daniel & Williams, 1984). It is thought that C. tuberculatus is derived from either C. picatus or C. gouldii and has been evolving in isolation here for over a million years (King, 1990).

New Zealand range

The long-tailed bat is distributed throughout almost all of New Zealand, and through varying habitat types. The distribution is shown in figure 2. The long-tailed bat can also be found on Great and Little Barrier Islands, as well as on Kapiti Island (Molloy, 1995). Long-tailed bats can be found at altitudes from sea level through to approximately 1000m (King, 1990). Daniel and Williams (1984) describe the wide range of habitats in which the bats can be found, including lowland and montane indigenous forest and remnants, exotic forest, farm land and limestone caves and outcrops. As discussed by Griffiths (1995), long-tailed bats are most abundant in areas of native forest.

Figure 2. Location of records of long-tailed bats, 1980–1995 (Molloy, 1995).

Canterbury range

South Canterbury is one of the few areas on the east coast of the South Island to have long-tailed bats (Griffiths, 1995). Long-tailed bats have been recorded throughout the Geraldine region in South Canterbury, including Peel Forest and Hanging Rock (Griffiths, 1995). Long-tailed bats have been recorded as roosting in farm buildings and under bridges in Canterbury (Daniel & Williams, 1984). Daniel & Williams (1984) also describe a large colony of long-tailed bats dwelling under a bridge over the Avon River in central Christchurch late last century.

Natural History in Canterbury


Most of the long-tailed bats in Canterbury can be found in Peel Forest, Talbot Forest, Hanging Rock, and around the Opihi river system (Griffiths, 1995). Peel Forest is a mixed podocarp/broadleaf forest remnant which has decreased in size because of milling and fires (Griffiths, 1995). Chalinolobus tubercalatus has been recorded as using up to nine species of indigenous trees, and up to six species of exotic trees to roost in this area (Griffiths, 1995). The habitat in Hanging Rock is quite different, with extensive limestone and sandstone outcrops (Griffiths, 1995). The Opihi river system is a “low energy system” (Griffiths, 1995), which is thought to benefit the long-tailed bat as higher energy rivers with increased turbulence may interfere with the bats echolocation abilities. Griffiths (1995) explains that this is likely to be the reason there are few bats around the Rangitata River in the Peel Forest area. The fact that long-tailed bats remain in this highly modified habitat, including fragmented forest, shows that the long-tailed bat is very flexible in its habitat selection (Griffiths, 1995)

Preferred habitats

Ideally long-tailed bats inhabit native forests; however this is limited to small and modified fragments in the Canterbury area (Daniel & Williams, 1984; Griffiths, 1995). Bats have been observed to prefer forest edges, and small clearances within a forest, which can increase this edge effect (Sedgeley & O’Donnell, 2004). As discussed earlier, due to the clearance of much of New Zealand’s native forest, long-tailed bats appear to have adapted to less preferable habitats.


Long-tailed bats hibernate for four to five months over winter, with some exceptions in the warmer Northland area (Daniel & Balance, 1989). A study by Daniel and Williams (1984) found that there are fewest bat sightings throughout New Zealand between May and September. The results of the study also show that some bats do wake from torpor to feed during the colder months (Table 1). While in hibernation, the long-tailed bat hangs upside down, and holds onto its roost with the claws of one or both feet (King, 1990).

Table 1. Seasonal activity of flying Chalinolobus spp. and unidentified bats for North and South Islands (adapted from Daniel & Williams, 1984).
Month Chalinolobus
North Island
South Island
North Island
South Island
January 16 6 14 22
February 14 2 18 18
March 2 2 13 6
April 6 4 10 3
May 2 0 4 1
June 3 2 7 4
July 2 0 2 3
August 1 0 8 5
September 3 3 12 1
October 8 5 5 6
November 7 3 2 8
December 5 0 21 14
Totals 69 27 116 91

The reproduction of long-tailed bats was studied by O’Donnell (2002) over a seven year period, and it was found that long-tailed bats mate early in the autumn. It is assumed that sperm is stored in the oviducts of the female bats throughout the winter, with ovulation and fertilisation taking place after hibernation in the spring (King, 1990). This is the case in both C. morio and C. gouldii as described by Kitchener & Coster (1981) (King, 1990). Females reach sexual maturity at two to three years of age, and give birth to single offspring around mid December (O’Donnell, 2002). The sex ratio of young was equal, and the young first took flight at four to five weeks (O’Donnell, 2002). O’Donnell (2002) observed that lactation of females occurred when there was an abundance of flying insects, as well as the highest annual air temperatures.

Figures 34 and Movie 1 show a young orphan long-tailed bat, and its proficiency at crawling.


This photo is licensed Some rights reserved, Laura Molles

Figures 3–4. Buddy, an orphan baby bat found by the staff at the Department of Conservation, Te Kuiti, North Island, New Zealand. Buddy was found by D.O.C. staff and cared for before being released back into the wild three weeks later. (Click on an image for the full caption.)

Movie 1. Buddy the baby long-tailed bat crawling along the arm of Jess Wallace (Department of Conservation). (Click on the play button on the bottom left.)


Once long-tailed bats emerge for the night, they have been found to forage up to four kilometers from their day time roost (Griffiths, 1995). Habitat use during the night is limited by two factors as discussed by Sedgeley and O’Donnell (2004). These two factors are mechanical restrictions on flight due to wing morphology, and perceptual constraints on flight due to echolocation. Sedgeley and O’Donnell (2004) also describe previous studies that have shown long-tailed bats to prefer forest edges and small clearings, and a tendancy to stay away from large openings.


Long-tailed bats are insectivores, feeding on mosquitoes, moths and mayflies (King, 1990; Dwyer, 1960). The bats have small sharp teeth, and these combined with a rapid jaw action, pulp food easily (Dwyer, 1960). Long-tailed bats are aerial feeders, catching insects on the wing (King, 1990).

A study outlined by King (1990) describes a long-tailed bat in captivity feeding on mealworms, liver fragments and larger insects such as a preying mantis (Roach & Turbott, 1953; ref to in King, 1990). This shows that long-tailed bats can be flexible in their diet.


The long-tailed bat is nocturnal; leaving their roosts to forage for food at dusk (Dwyer, 1960). The bats flight is described by Dwyer (1960) as silent, rapid, and with frequent changes in direction. The long-tailed bat can be mistaken for a fantail due to this erratic flight pattern (King, 1990). The bats forage and fly throughout the night, returning to their roost just after dawn (King, 1990)

A study by Sedgeley and O’Donnell (2004) found that the majority of bats roost communally. Their study centered on bats in the South Canterbury and found that the bats that roosted communally stayed in the roost for an average of a day and a half before moving to a new roost as a group. Communal roosts were often in trees with a large stem diameter, particularly willow trees (Salix spp.). Willow trees were found to have large enough cavities for communal roosting and yet still providing insulation for the bats (Sedgeley & O’Donnell, 2004). Solitary bats appeared to select roosts in rock crevices or trees with a smaller stem diameter such as cabbage trees (Cordyline australis) or kanuka (Kunzea ericoides). Sedgeley and O’Donnell (2004) also found that the roost requirements were different for a maternity roost where the female bats huddled together in a warm environment to try to increase gestation. The differing requirements for roosts depending on the needs of the bats showed that the bats were able to distinguish between high and low quality roost sites, and choose a site suitable to those needs (Sedgeley & O’Donnell, 2004).


Predation by introduced mustelids is thought to be a cause for the decline in numbers of the long-tailed bat (Molloy, 1995). A study by O’Donnell (2002) described a population crash of long-tailed bats in Fiordland in 1996; this coincided with an influx of stoats (Mustela erminea) to the area. Other introduced mammals such as rats (Rattus exulans, R. rattus & R. nolvegicu), domestic and feral cats (Felis catus) are also thought to prey on long-tailed bats (Molloy, 1995). The only native predator of long-tailed bats is the morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae subsp. novaeseelandiae) and, as reported by Dwyer (1960), the wings of bats can sometimes be found in their nests.


The long-tailed bat is host to a number of parasites as described by King (1990). The long-tailed bat flea (Porribius pacificus) is a host specific parasite. Because of the roosting habits of the long-tailed bat this flea is very common (King, 1990). Two new species of mite and one new species of cestode have also been found on long-tailed bats. Ornithonyssus spinosa (Manson, 1972) and Spinturnix spp. (A.C.G Heath) are the mite species, and Hymenolepis chalinolobus (Andrew& Daniels, 1974) the cestode.


A study on a population of long-tailed bats in Fiordland by Sedgeley and O’Donnell (1999) is described in O’Donnell (2000) as identifying possible competition for roost sites in the area. Both introduced starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) and ship rats (Rattus rattus) were found to be nesting in cavities also used by long-tailed bats. Competition between bats and starlings has also been identified in Europe by Mason et al. (O’Donnell, 2000)

How to find a Long-Tailed Bat

The best time to attempt to find a long-tailed bat would be at dusk on a summer evening. In Canterbury, colonies of bats will leave their roosts in limestone crevices at Hanging Rock and will emerge from trees in Peel Forest, Talbot Forest and along the Omihi River (Griffiths, 1995). Look for the long ‘V’ shaped tail, as seen in Figure 5.

If looking for a roost during the day, piles of mouse like dropping in caves or tree cavities is a sign of bats (King, 1990). A rainy or damp day will increase your chances, as when these droppings are wet; they smell strongly of ammonia (King, 1990).

Spend a day rock climbing at Hanging Rock as a number of popular routes pass close by roost sites (Griffiths, 1995). Be sure not to disturb any bats you may see.

Figure 5. A long- tailed bat. (Balance & Daniel, 1989)

Abundance and Conservation

Although long-tailed bats were once thought to be common and abundant, a study by O’Donnell (2000) confirms that the number of bats is declining. The nationwide causes for decline in long-tailed numbers are identified by O’Donnell as disturbance, habitat loss, predation, and competition. Toxins such as cyanide, 1080, phosphorous and anti-coagulants are also considered to pose a threat to long-tailed bats (Molloy, 1995). Daniel and William (1984) document one instance where a long-tailed bat died after eating cyanide possum bait.

Sedgeley and O’Donnell (2004) describe the factors specific to declining populations in Canterbury. The clearance of trees used for roosts, especially willows which are regarded as weeds, is one major problem. Disturbance by rock climbers is another problem as rock crevices are sometimes used as winter roosts (Sedgeley & O’Donnell, 2004). If bats are disturbed while in torpor, they have such a low body temperature that it may take them awhile to properly wake thereby leaving them vulnerable to predation.

Sedgeley and O’Donnell (2004) recommend a number of conservation measures including protection and enhancement of existing roosts, the building of artificial roosts, controlling predators, providing information on bats to locals, and the replanting of native vegetation.

Significance for people

Traditional Maori significance and uses Pekapeka, the Maori name for the long-tailed bat, had superstitious significance (Daniel, 1974). An old Maori proverb linked Pekapeka with the mythical nocturnal bird hokioi, and was thought to foretell of death and disaster (Daniel, 1974 and Molloy, 1995).

The significance of Pekapeka can also be seen in its use as a place name in areas of New Zealand (Daniel, 1974). North Auckland has a Pekapeka Bay, as well as Pekapeka Stream. Ruapekapeka, which translates to cave or nest of bats, is a also significant site (Daniel, 1974). Ruapekapeka is the location of Kawiti’s fortress during the first Maori and European war.

Modern Uses

Although there is no use to humans in the commercial or culinary sense, there is a high intrinsic value of the long-tailed bat. The long- tailed bat is the more common of the two remaining native terrestrial mammals of New Zealand. The long-tailed bat is the only bat that an interested member of the public could find reasonably easily. Because of these reasons, the long-tailed bat is an important part of New Zealand’s fauna.


The long-tailed bat is an elusive and fascinating species. As well as being endemic to New Zealand, it is one of only two species of native terrestrial mammals in this country. The long-tailed bat can be found throughout New Zealand in varying habitats, but its numbers are declining. With specific conservation measures, hopefully the long-tailed bat will remain an example of New Zealand’s unique fauna for generations to come.


Ballance, A. & Daniel, M. (1989) New Zealand’s Elusive Bats. Forest & Bird 20(4), 35–36.

Daniel, M.J. (1974) New Zealand’s only native mammals. New Zealand Natural Heritage, 1(14), 369–374

Daniel, M.J & Williams, G.R. (1984). A survey of the distribution, seasonal activity and roost sites of New Zealand bats. New Zealand Journal of Ecology, 7, 9–25.

Dwyer, P.D. (1960) New Zealand bats. Tuatara, 8(2) 61–71

Griffiths, R. (1996) Aspects of the ecology of a long-tailed bat, Chalinolobus tuberculatus (Gray, 1843), population in a highly fragmented habitat.

King, C.M. (1990). The handbook of New Zealand mammals. Oxford University Press. Auckland, New Zealand.

Molloy, J. (1995) Bat (Peka peka) recovery plan (Mystacina, Chalinolobus). Department of Conservation, New Zealand

O’Donnell, C.F.G (2000) Conservation status and causes of decline of the threatened New Zealand Long-tailed Bat Chalinolobus tuberculatus (Chiroptera: Vespertilionidae). Mammal Review. 30 (2) 89–102

O'Donnell, C.F.J. (2002) Timing of breeding, productivity and survival of long-tailed bats Chalinolobus tuberculatus (Chiroptera: Vespertilionidae) in cold-temperate rainforest in New Zealand. Journal of Zoology. 257 (3): 311–323

Sedgeley, J.A. & O’Donnell C.F.J. (2004) Roost use by long-tailed bats in South Canterbury: examining predictions of roost site selection in a highly fragmented landscape. New Zealand Journal of Ecology, 28(1): 1–18.

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