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Photo Credit: Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Lasiurus cinereus
COMMON NAME: Hoary Bat
DESCRIPTION: Lasiurus cinereus is the largest bat species in Alabama and is very colorful and heavily furred. It is also one of the largest bats in North America with a weight of about one ounce and a wingspan of 13 to 16 inches. Body fur is a mixed brownish-gray, tinged with white, giving it the frosted or “hoary” appearance. Much of the face and neck fur is a mustard-yellow. The ears are short, rounded and are lined in black. As with many of the forest bats in Alabama, a hoary’s wings are much more extensively covered in fur than many of the smaller cave dwelling bat species.
DISTRIBUTION: The hoary bat is one of the most widespread of North American bats occurring in almost all of the continental United States, Mexico and southern Canada. It also occurs in Iceland, Bermuda and the Dominican Republic. It is the only bat found in Hawaii and this Hawaiian subspecies is considered endangered. Distribution is seasonal as it migrates to southern portions of its range during the winter. In Alabama, most hoary bats are encountered as groups of the species migrate through the state in early fall.
HABITAT: Hoary bats are considered forest dwellers. They can be found hanging in foliage usually near forest edges. The roost is usually 10 or more feet high where vegetation covers them above but is clear below. They are seldom found in bat houses or human buildings. Occasionally, they are found in caves near the entrance.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Hoary bats roost and sleep during the day and are active at night. They are usually insectivorous, eating a wide variety of insects including moths, beetles and night midges. Very rarely, other bats may be caught as food. They are swift and direct flyers as compared with most other Alabama bats. This flight pattern, along with their large size, makes them easily identifiable. They forage along streams, over clearcuts, and along the edges of waterways and forests. The sexes apparently segregate during the summer. During the summer, one to four young may be born, but two is the usual number. Young cling to the female during the day, but are left at night while she forages for food. Hoary bats are considered solitary bats and are usually found roosting alone. They may associate during the reproductive season, while young are with the mother, and perhaps as small groups during migration.
As with most wild mammals, hoary bats can and do contract and transmit rabies. Though the incidence of rabies in any bat is very low, any bat that appears sick or cannot fly should be avoided. The hoary bat is a very beneficial species and like all Alabama’s bats are a natural means of insect control.
CONSERVATION STATUS: This species is classified as Moderate Conservation Concern.
AUTHOR: M. Keith Hudson, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Wildlife and Fisheries.