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Four Species of Bats Featured on Coins
By Dennis G. Rainey, World Coin News
October 31, 2013

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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There are 18 families, 202 genera and greater than 1,116 species of bats worldwide making bats the second most common mammal. Only rodents with greater than 2,277 species outnumber bats, but there are only four species of identifiable bats on coins.

• Australia features a ghost bat (Macroderma gigas) on a 2008 $1 coin (KM 1090). Another common name is Australian false vampire bat, which is very misleading since it is not related to vampire bats. It is called ghost bat because it is very light colored. Cook Islands 1998 $1 coin (KM 317) depicts the same ghost bat.

• The lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros) is on Poland’s 2010 two zloty (Y723) and 20 zloty (Y724).

• The Samoan flying fox (Pteropus samoensis) is depicted on the Samoa 1994 10 tala (KM 101), 2010 one gold tala (KM174) and 2010 10 silver tala (KM173), the latter has colored crystals in the eyes.

• The fourth known species is the short-tailed bat (Mystacina tuberculata) that is on New Zealand’s 2013 $5 and is the subject of this article.

Bats range in size from the tiny bumble bee bat that weighs only 0.06 ounce to the giant flying fox that weighs about 3 pounds and has a wing span of 5.6 feet.

I have often wondered why there are so few world coins portraying bats considering the popularity of Batman movies and comic books. And there are dozens of vampire movies beginning with early ones starring Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi based on the 1897 book, Dracula, by Bram Stoker.

However, those movies certainly gave a false impression of vampire bats. Those old actors always displayed greatly enlarged canine upper teeth that always were used to stab the neck of a beautiful sleeping girl. Little has changed in this regard up to present time. I am sure most viewers got the impression that these teeth were hollow and blood was sucked somehow from the victim and vampire bats were quite large.

First, there are real vampire bats, but they are very small weighing only 0.5 to 3.5 ounces. Also, there are only three species of vampire bats, all of which occur only in parts of Mexico, Central and South America and Trinidad. There is one record in 1967 in an old railroad tunnel from south Texas, but it is unknown how it got there. There are no vampire bats in the United States now.

Vampire bats’ teeth are not hollow but the upper and lower incisor teeth have very sharp edges used to make tiny incisions, and the bats lap up blood with their tongue just like dogs drink. Their saliva has an anti-coagulant in it. By the way, the old saying of “blind as a bat” is false; they have perfectly good eyesight.

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I will admit I am not aware of bats as pets since most know they can carry rabies (all mammals can carry rabies). Several years ago a student of mine gave me a greater bonneted bat (Eumops perotis), the largest bat in North America, that he had found in an old building. He had it in a simple cage he built. I happened to have a meal worm colony (larvae of the meal worm beetle) so I would feed it by carefully using forceps, and much to my surprise it adjusted rapidly and would leave the cage when it saw the meal worms, crawl up on my leg (I was sitting on the floor) and devour the worms as fast as I could pick them up. After feeding I carefully picked up the bat and returned it to the cage. I fed it more that day and night but released it the next morning. I was surprised that it tamed so rapidly. I recall my wife sat several feet away when it was out of the cage.

New Zealand has had only three species of bats, all endemic (found no where else). Two in an endemic family, Mystacinidae, and one is in a widespread family. The two mystacinids were the lesser short-tailed bat and greater short-tailed bat (Mystacina robusta), but the latter became extinct in 1965. The third is the New Zealand long-tailed bat (Chalinolobus tuberculatus), which probably has been in New Zealand for a million years. This species is common and widespread in New Zealand on both North and South Islands. Because New Zealand is an ancient and isolated land mass, its bats have evolved characteristics not found in bats elsewhere in the world. The mystacinids have been a puzzle to biologists for a long time because of their unique morphological characters.

No live greater short-tailed bat has been collected from North, South and Stewart Islands since 1840. They were found on only two rat-free islands off Stewart Island until 1965; the lesser species occurred also on those islands. It is thought rats caused the extinction of the greater species on North, South and Stewart Islands because the bats used the burrows of shearwater birds (called muttonbirds in New Zealand) for roosts. In early 1960s rats were accidently introduced in the two islands and rapidly wiped out this species.

The lesser short-tailed bat is small (total length 2.4 to 2.7 inches) and weighs only about 0.5 ounce. The tail is only 0.47 inch long whereas the tail length of the long-tailed bat is 1.7 inches. Three subspecies (geographic varieties) have been named, but recent DNA analysis has suggested there may be six subspecies. It is found in 13 known localities and its population is estimated to be about 50,000.

This species is the most terrestrial bat in the world and is as much at home on the ground as in the air. Take a peek at the photo of the coin and notice there are two bats, one flying and one on the ground (the one in the circle). There is a membrane that runs along the side of the body, forearms and lower legs and the bat can fold its wings underneath this membrane. Then using its forearms as front legs and assisted by its hind legs, the bat can literally run on the ground. The bat’s thumb has a claw as do the feet. This enables the bat to actually climb trees. How did this come about?

Until humans came to New Zealand bats were the only native mammals there. So this bat could evolve in the complete absence of terrestrial predators. It literally evolved to fill the niches of rodents and shrews elsewhere in the world.

So, it searches for food, primarily terrestrial invertebrates, among the leaf litter and humus. Some fruits and pollen also are eaten. It is the only bat in the world to forage 30 percent on the ground, 30 percent for insects in the air and 40 percent feeding from plants. In fact, this bat is a pollinator of a plant parasite of tree roots that extends its flowers above ground, and the bats eat the pollen it produces. This is the only known flower that is pollinated by bats on the ground.

During breeding season (February to May) males occupy mating roosts and use ultrasonic sounds to attract females. Implantation of the single embryo is delayed and the young is born in summer.

In cold weather they can slow body functions down and go into a torpor until it warms up.

The New Zealand Department of Conservation lists this species as a “species of highest conservation priority.” It is listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN.

You may wish to read my previous article on bats on Numismaster: “Movies Skew Perception of Vampire Bats” (WCN vol. 38, 3/11/2011).

Questions and comments are welcome. Contact me at denrain@charter.net.



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