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 are the only endemic land mammals in Hawaii and one of only two species of endemic Hawaiian mammals period. The other one is the beloved Hawaiian monk seal.
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 presence of Hoary bats was recently confirmed on the remote island west of Maui, Koolawe. That in addition to Kauai, Maui and the Big Island. There have also been sightings on Oahu and Molokai.
Hoary Bats | Only Hawaii Land Mammal.
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.
It is thought that the animals migrated to Hawaii from the US west coast at two separate times. Scientists believe that occurred last about a thousand years ago and prior to that about ten thousand years ago.
The Hoary bat eats insects and lives in forests. They are solitary creatures and grow to about 6 inches, weigh about an ounce, and have a wing span of only 12 inches.
Beautiful to watch Hawaiian 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.
Other Interesting Facts About Hoary Bats.
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.
Have you seen a Hawaiian Hoary bat?
Photo by USGS.