If it comes as a surprise to you that there are Hoary bats in Hawaii, you aren’t alone. It may be even more of a surprise to learn that these Hawaii animals may soon be the first land mammal of Hawaii.
We’ve lived here for a long time and had never seen a Hawaiian Hoary bat until recently. Then one evening while walking along Kauai’s Hanalei Bay, we noticed what we thought were birds flying at sunset over the shoreline. Upon closer inspection of their unique flying patterns, we realized that these were actually the endangered Hawaiian Hoary bat.
The Hawaii legislature is in the process of designating Hoary bats as our state land mammal. Hawaii is one of only a few states with no such official animal. The bats, Hawaii’s only native land mammals, are brown/gray with white tips at their extremities. It’s their unique fur pattern after which they are named. Since 1970, they have been on the USA and Hawaii list of endangered species. Damage to their population has probably been the result of deforestation and pesticide use.
The Hoary bat eats insects and lives in forests. They are solitary creatures grow to about 6 inches, weigh about an ounce, and have a wing span of only 12 inches.
Hawaii’s Hoary bats typically seek solitude, so you won’t find them flying around in Honolulu. The largest populations are on the Big Island and Kauai, although they can still be seen on all of the islands. Most people we’ve spoken with have rarely, if ever, seen them. As is common with other bats, they are mostly seen in the early evening, just before dark. At that time they’ll be feeding over streams, bays, or in our recent sighting, along the coast.
While relatively little is still known about them, they are believed to roost in trees and live at altitudes varying from sea level to Hawaii’s tallest peaks.
Hoary bats emit various sounds. These include high frequency calls used to detect their insect diet as well as low frequency, humanly audible social sounds. It is believed that some Hawaiian moths can even hear the high pitched sounds and thus avoid becoming part of the bat diet.