Department of Planning and Natural Resources
Division of Fish and Wildlife
U.S.V.I. Animal Fact Sheet #09
+ Pale stripe along center of back
+ Tip of tail is free on the upper surface of the
+ Have an especially strong musky smell
* Short hair
+ Flanks nearly naked
The Fishing bat has a pointed muzzle and
lacks the nose leaf seen in many other bats.
Upper lips are smooth but divided by a "hare
lip", a vertical fold of skin under the nostrils. The
lips are also large and swollen in appearance
suggesting another of its common names, the
Greater Bulldog Bat.
This bat presents a formidable dental arsenal
and its cheeks are elastic and can be greatly
expanded; internal cheek pouches are present.
The ears are large, slender, pointed, and separate.
The wings are quite narrow and long, being more
than two and a half times the length of the head
and body. Nearly 65% of the wingspan is
composed of the third digit.
The tail tip is "free", protruding for about 1/4
to 1/2 inches from the dorsal surface of a well-
developed uropatagium (membrane connecting
rear legs and tail). This membrane is supported
by the legs, tail, and calcar (a cartilaginous
structure that is connected to the heel bone and is
unique to bats). In this species the calcar is very
large, and serves to hold the uropatagium out of
the water when the bat flies close to the surface.
The fishing bat has unusually long hind limbs
and very large hind feet (1.8 to 3.9 times larger
than non-fishing bats).
Fishing bats are sexually dimorphic. The
males tend to be larger and reddish to orange on
their back, the females are generally greyish or
dull brown and smaller than the males. Both
males and females tend to have pale underparts,
and the fur is extremely short.
Distribution & Habitat
The fishing bat is found throughout New
World tropic and sub tropic lowland habitats
where either fresh or salt waters are calm enough
to allow it to fish for example ponds and quiet
streams, estuaries, bays and lagoons along
coastlines. In the USVI these bats roost in small
colonies in caves, rocky crevices, rock piles, or
hollow trees usually on or close to the shoreline.
They have even been found under empty turtle
shells. Caves where fishing bats roost, can be
recognized by the strong musky smell that is
characteristic of the species. They are mostly
active around dusk and at night, but have also
been seen late in the afternoon, in the middle of
groups of feeding pelicans, zigzagging across the
The Greater Fishing Bat is one of six bat
species to have evolved a fish eating habit. Fish-
eating, or piscivory, in bats is thought to have
evolved from catching floating or swimming
insects off the water. A species of bat, Noctilio
albiventris, closely related to the fishing bat is
primarily insectivorous. Using echolocation to
capture insects from the water surface, it also
possesses cheek pouches similar to the fishing
Analyses of stomach contents provide
evidence that fish are not taken exclusively.
Although the remains of fish were found in the
stomachs of the bats examined, significant
amounts of insect material also were reported.
When hunting, fishing bats fly zig-zagging
over the water surface at a height of between 7
and 20 inches. They use echolocation to detect
ripples on the waters surface, left by fish
swimming near the surface. This is termed high
When the bat detects a disturbance in the
water, that may indicate the presence of a small
fish, it descends to the water surface. In this low
search flight, the bat's body is parallel to the
water and only 1-4 inches above it. It then rakes
its enormous taloned feet, like two grappling
hooks, through the water trying to gaff the fish.
They may eat while flying, or transfer the
fish to the uropatagium and take it to a perch to
consume it. These bats can catch fish up to 3
inches in length from as deep as 1 inch below the
The fishing bat can adjust the frequency of
its echolocation call to enhance communication.
They can drop the frequency sweep of the
echolocation call an extra octave in effect
"honking". This behavior has been observed
when there are two or more bats flying close to
each other. If bats were on a collision course
they would "honk" at each other then veer away
to avoid a collision.
Males may reside with female groups for
two or more reproductive seasons. Generally the
females bear a single young each pregnancy.
Gestation may be as long as two months. Young
bats don't leave the roost for their first attempts
at sustained flight until nearly adult size, a little
less than one month of age. Some females may
breed again after their first offspring has left to
have 2 young in a breeding season. This
extended breeding season corresponds to the
period of greatest food availability.
Both parents remain at the roost
throughout suggesting a high degree of bi-
parental care, which may be a characteristic of
What you can do to HELP
1. Reducing the amount of pesticides and
chemicals we use to control pests will help the
2. Please, if possible let them take care of
themselves. They have been doing theirjob for
millions of years, and are a great benefit to us.
3. Remember it is illegal to take, catch, possess,
injure, harass, or kill any indigenous species.
The only exceptions are for people holding valid
permits from the Division of Fish and Wildlife
4. For more information on this and other
animals in the Virgin Islands please visit out
Written by William Coles 2002.
THIS PUBLICATION WAS PRODUCED WITH
FUNDS FROM THE WILDLIFE
CONSERVATION AND RESTORATION
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON
OUR NATIVE ANIMALS CONTACT
DIVISION OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
6291 ESTATE NAZARETH, 101,
ST. THMAS, VI 00802
PHONE 340-775-6762 FAX 340-775-3972
45 MARS HILL, ST. CROIX, VI 00840
PHONE 340-772-1955 FAX 340-772-3227