- Found in Central and South America, the greater spear-nosed bat is unusual in that it feeds on birds, bats, and small rodents.
- Spectral bats are the largest found in the Americas. They typically have one mate for life, and the one offspring the female gives birth to between late spring to mid-summer is cared for by the male bat.
- With a 5.6-foot wingspan and a weight of as much as 2.6 pounds, the golden-crowned flying fox is the largest bat in the world.
It’s true that bats make a lot of people squeamish. As a mammal that’s achieved true flight, they strike some folks as too weird for comfort.
Their leathery wings and nocturnal habits don’t help, and it is true that a number of bats have been vectors of ghastly diseases. But bats are enormously important for the environment.
They eat insect pests such as mosquitoes, help pollinate flowers and help the spread of plants by dropping their seeds. The biggest bats in the world are fruit bats, or mega-bats though not all fruit bats grow to great size. Here are 10 of the largest species in the world.
#10. Greater Horseshoe Bat
This animal is the largest horseshoe bat found in Europe. It’s found not only in Europe but in northern Africa and central and eastern Asia. It is considered non-migratory because its winter and summer encampments are only about 19 miles apart.
The animal can be about 4.5 inches from nose to tail, and females are a little larger than males. They have a 14 to 16-inch wingspan and can be told by their nose leaf. The top of the nose leaf is pointed while the bottom is shaped like the horseshoe that gives the animal its name.
It has fluffy gray fur and light grayish brown wings. It is a long-lived species and can live as long as 30 years. It feeds mostly on moths.
#9. Greater Spear-Nosed Bat
However, the wingspan of the female is greater at around 1.8 feet. The animal is notable because of its nose leaf, which is shaped like a spear.
It spends much of the day in enormous colonies found in caves and abandoned buildings and emerges when the sun goes down.
#8. Spectral Bat
This tailless species, which can be long as 5.3 inches with a wingspan greater than 3 feet is the largest bat in the Americas. Its fur is fine and reddish-brown, and it has large round ears as well as a large nose leaf.
It is a bit unusual for bats in that it mates for life, though scientists don’t know when its breeding season is. They do know that the females give birth to one offspring from late spring to mid-summer and are again unusual for bats in that the male helps care for the young.
The spectral bat is also known as the great false vampire bat because it was once thought to feed on blood. While that’s not the case, spectral bats are considered to be some of the best hunters in the forests of Central and South America, second only to jaguars, because of their keen sense of smell.
They prey on small birds, rodents, frogs, lizards, and other bats. Once they locate a victim, they swoop down and crush its skull with their powerful bite.
#7. Greater Noctule Bat
This animal, which is around 6 inches in length from nose to tail and has an 18-inch wingspan preys on birds and is one of the few species of bats to prey on animals larger than insects. Not only this, it hunts birds on the wing.
To do this, it uses echolocation and has wings that are unusually narrow and delicate. Though the wings are more susceptible to damage, they allow the animal to outmaneuver their prey even in the dark of night. It’s found in North Africa, western Asia, and Europe.
The Greater Noctule Bat is a rare carnivorous bat and is the largest and one of the least studied species of bats in the world. They may be large but they are fast flying capable of traveling long distances. The animals are a golden brown color with a darker tone found on the face and wings. Although somewhat mysterious, these bats are one of the cuter species of bats.
#6. Wroughton’s Free-Tailed Bat
This animal gets its name because its tail is free, or not attached to its wing membranes. Though it seems to be rare as it’s only found in two places in India and a cave in Cambodia, not enough is known about this bat to give it a conservation status, though efforts have been made to protect it.
Wroughton’s free-tailed bat is about 6 inches from head to tail, has large ears that point forward, and a large nose pad on a furless face. The fur is plush and dark brown on the top of the animal’s head, its back, and its rump, though the back of the neck and its shoulders are silvery. Scientists believe the animal eats insects, and both males and females have a throat sac.
#5. Franquet’s Epauletted Bat
This species is found in West Africa in countries such as Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Cote d’Ivoire. It can also be found in Congo, Sudan, Angola, and Zambia. On average, it has a 2-foot wingspan and ranges from 5.51 to 7.01 inches long. These animals tend to keep to themselves or live in small groups, and scientists don’t know their mating customs.
They assume that they don’t have one breeding season but breed year-round. It gets its name because of the white patches on its shoulders, which contrast with the dark brown or orange color of much of the rest of its fur.
Franquet’s epauletted bat is a frugivore, but it eats in an interesting way. It crushes the fruit against the back of its hard palate, swallows the juice and the seeds then spits out the pulp. It also eats flowers. The conservation status of the species is least concern.
#4. Madagascan Flying Fox
The Madagascan flying fox is endemic to the African island country of Madagascar and is its largest bat. It can attain a size of 9 to 10.5 inches and a wingspan of over 4 feet. It has an alert, vulpine face, brown fur, and gray or black wings. The head of the male is just a bit larger than that of the female, otherwise, both sexes are alike.
This flying fox doesn’t roost in caves but in trees old and big enough to support huge colonies. It hangs upside down with its leathery wings wrapped around it. The flying fox eats fruit, especially figs, and disperses the seeds far and wide as they pass through the animal’s GI tract.
It also eats flowers and leaves and laps nectar. The Madagascan flying fox is believed to be a pollinator of the kapok tree, an ornamental grown for its beauty and whose flowers are used to make teas and soups.
#3. Hammer-Headed Bat
This creature with the unfortunate scientific name of Hypsignathus monstrosus is found near bodies of water in the forests of central Africa. The males are longer than the females and can weigh twice as much.
A big male can weigh close to a pound and be as long as 11 inches, with females being as long as 8.8 inches. Its size makes the hammer-headed the largest bat on the African mainland.
It is the males who give the species its hammer-headed moniker because they have a huge larynx and enlarged structures on their heads that help their vocalizations carry. They include outsized lips and a warty, humped snout, fat cheek pouches, and a split chin.
Truly, it’s one of the ugliest animals in the world. The female looks more like a typical flying fox. The sounds the male hammer-headed bat makes are so loud that it is considered a pest in some places. Yet, its conservation status is least concern.
#2. The Great Flying Fox
The Great Flying Fox is found in New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago which gives it its other name of Bismarck Flying Fox. At 10.5 to 13.0 inches in length for the males and 9.2 to 11.0 inches in length for the females, it’s the largest bat found in Melanesia.
It’s also one of the heaviest at up to 3.5 pounds. Like most other flying foxes, it eats fruit, especially figs. It searches for food both day and night.
The fur of this bat ranges from golden brown to russet though it may have a bare back and lighter-colored fur on the rump. The bat is gregarious and likes to form colonies that may be made up of thousands, all hanging from the tops of trees.
Since the great flying fox often lives close to the sea, it sometimes finds fruit floating on the ocean waves and plucks it up.
#1. Golden-Crowned Flying Fox
Also called the golden-capped fruit bat, this animal is the largest bat in the world. Its size is truly impressive. Though its body length of 7.01 to 11.42 inches makes it shorter in length than some other species, it makes up for this with a 5.6-foot wingspan and can weigh as much as 2.6 pounds.
It is found in the Philippines and lives in hardwood forests near the edges of cliffs, swamps or mangrove forests, and other places where it can stay clear of human habitation.
The bat’s fur is short, smooth, and variegated, with brown or black on the head, russet around the shoulder, cream on the nape of the neck, and golden hairs found all over the body. These bats do have a peculiar odor that humans find off-putting. Scientists suspect this odor helps the bats communicate.
The golden-crowned flying fox is a frugivore and helps to disperse seeds, especially those of the fig. Scientists don’t know its mating habits or how long it lives in the wild. They have observed that it likes to roost with other kinds of fruit bats. The golden-crowned flying fox leaves its colony when the sun sets to find fruit, then comes home before the sun rises. Because of extensive habitat loss in the Philippines, the golden-crowned flying fox is endangered.
Summary of the Top 10 Largest Bats in the World
Bats are already intimidating creatures, but let’s review the 10 biggest ones in the bunch:
|Rank||Species||Size (Nose to Tail)|
|1||Golden-Crowned Flying Fox||7.01-11.42 inches|
|2||The Great Flying Fox||10.5-13 inches (males); 9.2-11 inches (females)|
|3||Hammer-Headed Bat||11 inches (males); 8.8 inches (females)|
|4||Madagascan Flying Fox||9-10.5 inches|
|5||Franquet’s Epauletted Bat||5.51-7.01 inches|
|6||Wroughton’s Free-Tailed Bat||6 inches|
|7||Greater Noctule Bat||6 inches|
|8||Spectral Bat||5.3 inches|
|9||Greater Spear-Nosed Bat||5.23 inches (males); 4.9 inches (females)|
|10||Greater Horseshoe Bat||4.5 inches|
Listing by Wingspan and Weight
There are different views on what constitute “largest.” To some people, the largest bats are the ones with the biggest wingspan. If we rank the bats on our list by wingspan length instead of nose-to-tail length, here’s how it would come out:
|Rank||Species||Approximate Size (Wingspan)|
|1||Golden-Crowned Flying Fox Bat||up to 5 feet|
|2||Great Flying Fox Bat||4.92 feet|
|3||Madagascan Flying Bat||4 feet|
|4||Hammer-headed Bat||3.3 feet|
|5||Spectral Bat||3 feet|
|6||Franque’s Epauletted Bat||2 feet|
|7||Greater Spear-Nosed Bat||2 feet|
|8||Greater Noctule Bat||1.5 feet|
|9||Greater Horseshoe Bat||1.3 feet|
Note: The Wroughton’s Free-Tailed bat does not really have wings. Instead, it has “forelimbs” that are about 2.6 inches long.
You could also rank bats by their weight, and this time the Golden-Crowned Flying Fox and the Great Flying Fox might tie for first at an average 49.6 ounces or 3.1 pounds. On this list, some of our bigger bats are lightweights so would drop way down the list. We would have to give an Honorable Mention for largest bats to the Livingstone’s fruit bat (28 ounces; Anjouan and Mohali Islands), the Sulawesi flying fox bat (24.6 ounces; Indonesia) and the Insular flying fox bat (21 ounces; Pacific Islands).
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Hugh Lansdown/Shutterstock.com
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