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Wild Thing: Beware the Bugbear

Ghost-faced bats’ frightening features actually aid echolocation.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Once upon a time, an ugly mythical creature called a bugbear gobbled up children if they refused to behave. At least, that’s what their frazzled parents had them believe!

Scary or not, bugbears share their name and bizarre looks with the ghost-faced bat, a Texas species that ranges from the Trans-Pecos and Rio Grande Valley regions into the Edwards Plateau. In Greek, the genus name Mormoops loosely translates to “bugbear face.”

“Whenever my students see one for the first time, they can’t believe anything looks like that,” says Loren Ammerman, a biology professor at Angelo State University. “Ghost-faced bats have a satellite-dish face with tiny eyes set way back in their big ears. Their faces also have flaps and wrinkles that help them send and receive echoes when catching prey.”

Leafy-looking flaps on their chins account for their other common name — leaf-chinned bats.

“They don’t have strong skulls, so they eat mainly soft-bodied insects like moths,” adds Ammerman, co-author of Bats of Texas (new edition, Texas A&M Press). “They fly fast and far when foraging.”

Little more is known about this elusive species.

“In the winter, ghost-faced bats tend to roost in caves found in West Texas and the Edwards Plateau,” Ammerman says. “But we’re not sure where they have their nurseries in early summer.”

They often share caves with myotis and Brazilian free-tailed bats. Barely, that is. Ghost-faced bats avoid roosting near other species and — unlike their more sociable relatives who sleep bunched up together — keep six inches apart among themselves.

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