Vampyrum spectrum lives primarily in northern South America and Central America. Their range extends from central Brazil and Peru to southern Mexico. They are also found on Trinidad in the Antilles.
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical
Vampyrum spectrum is the largest bat species in the New World. Adults weigh between 145 and 190 g, and have a wingspan of 762-914 mm (some exceed 1 m). Head and body length is 125 to 135 mm, there is no tail. The ears are rounded and large, extending to the nose when laid forward, they measure 39 to 42 mm in length. The noseleaf is also large, 17 mm in length on average. The majority of the body is reddish brown, with a slightly paler underside. The fur is short and and fine. This large bat species is distinguished from other large phyllostomids by their generally larger size, lack of a tail, and by the presence of 4 upper and lower incisors as compared to 4 above and 2 below in the similar species Chrotopterus auritus and Phyllostomus hastatus. The dental formula is 2/2, 1/1, 2/3, 3/3 = 34.
Range mass: 170 to 180 g.
Range wingspan: 700 to 900 mm.
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Catalog Number: USNM 78127
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Mammals
Sex/Stage: Male; Adult
Preparation: Skull; Remainder in Fluid
Collector(s): E. Nelson & E. Goldman
Year Collected: 1896
Locality: Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico, North America
Elevation (m): 23
Panamanian Dry Forests Habitat
This taxon is found in the Panamanian dry forests, but not necessarily limited to this ecoregion. The Panamanian dry forests ecoregion occupies approximately 2000 square miles of coastal and near-coastal areas on the Pacific versant of Panama, around portions of the Gulf of Panama. Plant endemism is intermediate, and vertebrate species richness is quite high in the Panamanian dry forests.This key ecoregion is highly threatened from its extensive ongoing exploitation. Beyond the endemism and species richness, the ecoregion is further significant, since it offers a biological corridor from the moist forests to the coastal mangroves.
Plant endemism is intermediate in value within the Panamanian dry forests, likely elevated due to the (a) isolation of this ecoregion from the surrounding and intervening moist forest habitat; (b) arid conditions which likely enhanced speciation and hence species richness; and (c) absence of prehistoric glaciation, which has extinguished many species in more extreme latitudes.
Many of the plants are well adapted to herbivory defense through such morphologies as spiny exteriors and other features. Forest canopies are typically less than twenty meters, with a few of the highest species exceeding that benchmark. Caesalpinia coriaria is a dominant tree in the Azuero Peninsula portion of the dry forests, while Lozania pittieri is a dominant tree in the forests near Panama City. The vegetative palette is well adapted to the dry season, where water is a precious commodity.
Faunal species richness is high in the Panamanian dry forests, as in much of Mesoamerica, with a total of 519 recorded vertebrates alone within the Panamanian dry forests. Special status reptiles in the Panamanian dry forests include the American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), the Lower Risk/Near Threatened Brown Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys annulata), the Lower Risk/Near Threatened Common Caiman (Caiman crocodilus), the Lower Risk/Near Threatened Common Slider (Trachemys scripta), and the Critically Endangered Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). There are two special status amphibian in the ecoregion: the Critically endangered plantation Glass Frog (Hyalinobatrachium colymbiphyllum) and the Vulnerable Camron mushroom-tongued salamander (Bolitoglossa lignicolor).
Threatened mammals found in the Panamanian dry forests include the: Endangered Central American Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi), the Vulnerable Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), the Near Threatened Handley’s Tailless Bat (Anoura cultrata), the Vulnerable Lemurine Night Monkey (Aotus lemurinus), the Near Threatened Margay (Leopardus wiedii), the Near Threatened Yellow Isthmus Rat (Isthmomys flavidus), the Near Threatened White-lipped Peccary (Tayassu pecari), and the Near Threatened Spectral Bat (Vampyrum spectrum). There are two special status bird species occurring in the ecoregion: the Endangered Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus) and the Near Threatened Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi).
They roost in dense, lowland forest below 1,650 m elevation, usually near a river or stream. They are also found in other moist, evergreen forest, yards, secondary growth woodlands, forest edges, and swampy areas. They have been observed roosting in human structures and hollow trees.
Range elevation: 1650 (high) m.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest
Other Habitat Features: riparian
Habitat and Ecology
The diet of V. spectrum includes a number of avian, bat, and rodent species. Preferred birds are usually gregarious, or have a very strong odor, and typically roost on branches as opposed to cavities. Prey is apparently located by scent more than by sight or echolocation, and following location it is carefully stalked before a strike is made. These bats begin feeding around dusk, and may have several feeding periods throughout the night. Adults typically feed solitarily, while their mate stays in the nest with the young. Remains of 84 birds of 18 species were found in a single V. spectrum roost.
These bats were previously thought to feed on blood, hence their common name, "False Vampire". It is thought that they may also eat fruit but a mated pair kept in captivity for 5 years refused any fruit offered to them.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; insects
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)
Vampyrum spectrum are large, predatory bats which impact their prey communities, especially rodents, birds, and other bats.
Predation on V. spectrum has not been described, although it is likely that young in roosts can be taken by large, arboreal snakes and other arboreal predators, such as coatis and cat species. They may also be taken by large birds of prey, such as owls and eagles, while in flight.
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
These bats presumably communicate among themselves using the modes of communication widely used in mammals: chemical, auditory, visual, and tactile modes, though this has not been carefully studied in these animals. Males enclose females and their young in their wings while roosting.
These bats use echolocation to help them navigate during flight and prey location. They have been observed using vision to locate prey, which they then capture with a stealthy approach. It has been suggested that they use their sense of smell to locate roosting birds and other prey at night.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Perception Channels: tactile ; echolocation ; chemical
In captivity, V. spectrum can live for up to 5.5 years. Their longevity in the wild is unknown.
Status: captivity: 5.5 (high) years.
These bats form monogamous pairs, possibly for life.
Mating System: monogamous
The estrous cycle, gestation period, and details of the early growth of young have not been determined for this species. Births have been recorded from May to July but data are scarce. It's possible that births occur at the end of the dry season and beginning of the rainy season in the regions where these bats live.
Breeding interval: These bats breed once yearly.
Breeding season: The breeding season is unknown.
Average number of offspring: 1.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
Both adults assist in the rearing of young. Both parents bring food back to roosts for their young and are solicitous of the young until they reach independence. Males are known to wrap their wings around both mothers and their young while roosting.
Parental Investment: male parental care ; female parental care
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Vampyrum spectrum
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Vampyrum spectrum
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 9
Species With Barcodes: 1
Vampyrum spectrum has been designated as 'Lower risk / near threatened' by the IUCN.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: near threatened
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There are no known adverse affects of V. spectrum on humans.
The economic importance of V. spectrum to humans is not known.
The genus Vampyrum contains only one species, the spectral bat (Vampyrum spectrum). Some alternate names for this species are the false vampire bat, Linnaeus's false vampire bat and the spectral vampire bat. Confusingly, they are not related to the Old World family of large carnivorous bats to be found in the Megadermatidae that are also called false vampires.
This species is the largest bat (Chiroptera) native to the New World and the largest carnivorous bat in the world. The wingspan typically ranges from 60 to 91.5 cm (23.6 to 36.0 in), with the largest specimens attaining just over 100 cm (39 in). The length is 12.5–13.5 cm (4.9–5.3 in) (there is no tail) and body mass is 145–190 g (5.1–6.7 oz). The fur on the upper parts of the bat is normally dark brown, chestnut brown or rust-orange and quite short and fine. The ears are very long and rounded. There is no discernible tail, but the tail membrane is long and broad. The large feet are robust, with long curved claws. The muzzle is long and narrow, and the teeth are strong. The noseleaf, averaging 1.7 cm (0.67 in) long, is medium-sized, lance-shaped, horseshoe and spear with continuous rim raised to form a hollow cup around the nostrils. Underparts are usually pale, dirty gray-brown to yellow-brown – the fur is much shorter than on the front.
Range and habitat
The range of the species is southern Mexico to Peru and Ecuador to central and northern Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, and the island of Trinidad. These bats are typically found roosting, usually on tree branches, but sometimes in hollow trees or even man-made structures, in dense, lowland neotropical forests, below an elevation of 1,650 m (5,410 ft). They are found in the greatest numbers in riparian areas. While foraging, they visit more diverse habitats and can be found in moist, evergreen forest, yards, secondary growth woodlands, forest edges, and muggy areas.
The spectral bat is a formidable aerial night hunter. While true vampire bats, for which it was formerly named, parasitically feed on the blood of larger animals, often as they sleep and usually with little ill effect, this species rather actively hunts and kills other animals. This large predatory species primarily lives on relatively large vertebrate prey, such as small birds, small mammals (including other species of bats) and occasionally amphibians and reptiles. Prey is usually selected that lives or gathers in groups, has a strong odor and typically roosts on branches rather than in cavities. Most prey selected weighs from 20 to 150 g (0.71 to 5.29 oz), which is equal to their own weight. The remains of 84 bird specimens of 18 different species, including motmots, doves, trogons, cuckoos, wrens and orioles, were discovered at one spectral bat roost. Insects are also included in the diet, especially large crickets, cicadas, etc.
When hunting, this species is extremely stealthy. Their characteristic flight is slow and low to the ground. They can appear bouncy but are actually quite maneuverable fliers. It will often actively stalk their prey and then pounce from a position on an above branch onto its prey or, in an owl-like fashion, hunt by patrolling back and forth along forest edges, suddenly dropping on something in the grass. Spectral bats do not seem to forage by sight or echolocation as do most bats, but apparently hunt so mainly by scent. However, they have been recorded as being attracted to the stress calls of smaller bats while hunting. Their wing structure allows them to take flight in confined spaces and to carry heavy prey items. These bats were once thought to supplement their diet with fruit, but a captive pair refused to eat any fruit over a 5-year period. Spectral bats usually hunt several times a night and, during the breeding season, the male will hunt for food alone and bring food back to the female and their young.
Spectral bats usually roost in a hollow tree with a mate and their young of the year. Little data is available on the breeding details of the species, though births have been observed from May to July, at the onset of the rainy season. One young or pup is usually produced each year, though up to 3 have been recorded. The mother is reportedly very attentive and gentle with her offspring. The male is often in attendance as well and will frequently sleep with both the female and their young completely wrapped up in his wings. Pairs may mate for life. Young spectral bats may be predated by arboreal predators such as tree snakes, coatis and Leopardus cats. Adults may be killed in flight by owls. At this point, the little-known spectral bat is classified as Near Threatened, due only to its apparent dependency on mature forest, which is being heavily logged in some parts of the species range.
- Aguirre, L., Mantilla, H., Miller, B. & Dávalos, L. (2008). "Vampyrum spectrum". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
- Linnæus, Carl (1758). Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I (in Latin) (10 ed.). Holmiæ: Laurentius Salvius. p. 31. Retrieved 21 November 2012.
- Hamman, David. (2003-05-12) Vampyrum spectrum. Animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu. Retrieved on 2012-12-29.