Latin name: Mormoops megalophylla
Size: About 3.5 inches long, with a wingspan of 14–15 inches
Habitat: Caves and abandoned mines and tunnels
Is any creature more unfairly maligned than the bat? Nature’s only flying mammal (flying squirrels merely glide) is the stuff of Halloween lore, often depicted on-screen as a bloodsucking, disease-spreading vampire that swoops down onto unsuspecting victims. Never mind that out of more than 1,400 bat species, only 3 are vampiric, meaning they feed on the blood of other animals—and even they rarely attack us. (Nor are vampire bats currently found in Texas.) Bats have had a PR problem since at least 1896, when the first horror film, Georges Méliès’s Le manoir du diable, depicted a giant bat that turns into the devil. Not great! Public opinion has come a long way, though, and in 1995 the Mexican free-tailed bat was named Texas’s official flying mammal. Here we’re talking about its lesser-known cousin: the ghost-faced bat.
Let’s not sugarcoat it—this is one of the ugliest bats on the planet. It belongs to the genus Mormoops, a name that sounds like a Muppet’s but actually derives from Mormo, a female demon in Greek mythology said to have eaten her own children. The ghost-faced bat has deep folds and wrinkles across its furry, burnt orange countenance; from some angles, its eyes appear to be inside its ears. “Evolution is sort of playing with Legos with this animal,” says Nate Fuller, state bat biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife. All those folds and wrinkles may act like a megaphone, directing the echolocation calls that bats rely on to navigate.
Where do these weirdos live?
Ghost-faced bats thrive throughout warm, humid, arid, and semiarid
regions. In Texas, they’re found in caves, tunnels, and mine shafts along the southwestern border. Though their migratory patterns are not well understood, many of the bats probably head south to Mexico for the winter.
How’s their future looking?
Pretty bright! The species is not considered at risk. While it could potentially be threatened by white-nose syndrome, an epidemic that’s killed millions of bats across North America, no cases have yet been detected. Its preference for hot weather might even help it adapt as our planet warms.
An abbreviated version of this article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Ghost-Faced Bat.” Subscribe today.
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