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Publication #WEC379

Florida's Bats: Brazilian Free-tailed Bat1

Holly K. Ober, Terry J. Doonan, and Emily H. Evans2

The Brazilian free-tailed bat (Figure 1) is found throughout Florida and is the state’s most common bat. With a wingspan of 12 inches (31 cm), it is a medium-sized bat. Fur color varies from dark brown to gray-brown. Brazilian free-tailed bats have long tails and wrinkled cheeks.

Figure 1. 

Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis).


Credit:

Merlin Tuttle, Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation http://www.merlintuttle.com/


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Found throughout the southern United States, the species has been seen throughout the entire state of Florida with the exception of the Florida Keys (Figure 2). They are highly gregarious, living in large congregations.

Figure 2. 

Brazilian free-tailed bats can be found in every county throughout Florida.


Credit:

Emily Evans


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

In Florida, these bats roost (sleep during the day) primarily in man-made structures. They have been found roosting in attics and sheds, under bridges (e.g., highway overpasses), under barrel roof tiles, and in bat houses. Less commonly they can be found roosting in palm trees.

Brazilian free-tailed bats emerge from their roosts shortly before sunset to forage on insects at high altitudes. They are important economically because they consume large quantities of insect pests. They feed on a variety of moths, beetles, and bugs that afflict common agricultural crops such as corn, cotton, soybeans, and pecans.

How do you know if you have found a Brazilian free-tailed bat?

First, check the rump to determine if a tail is visible. If a tail >1 inch can be seen (Figure 3), the bat is one of Florida’s three species of free-tailed bats (in the family Molossidae).

Figure 3. 

Free-tailed bats (those in the family Molossidae) have long tails that extend >1 inch beyond their tail membrane, like the bat on the left. In comparison, other bats have short, stubby tails, like the bat on the right (not a free-tailed bat).


Credit:

Merlin Tuttle


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Read below to determine how to differentiate the three species of free-tailed bats found in Florida.

Brazilian Free-Tailed Bat (Tadarida brasiliensis)

  • Found throughout the entire state of Florida, except the Keys

  • Often roosts during the day in man-made structures (attics, stadiums, bridges, and bat houses)

  • Typically roosts in large congregations (1,000–500,000 individuals)

  • Produces a musky odor that is noticeable from some distance away

  • Has ears that are fully separated from one another (not joined at the base like velvety free-tailed or bonneted bat ears; Figure 4)

  • Is about the size of a standard business card when it is at rest and its wings are folded

Florida Bonneted Bat (Eumops floridanus)

  • Is found only in central and south Florida (as far north as Polk County)

  • Roosts in pine tree cavities, palms, rock crevices, and man-made structures (beneath barrel tile roofs and in bat houses)

  • Roosts in small groups (less than 50 individuals)

  • Has ears that are not fully separated from one another (they are joined at the base; Figure 4)

  • Is the largest bat in Florida, about the size of a standard I-phone when it is at rest and its wings are folded

Figure 4. 

The ears of Brazilian free-tailed bats are not joined at the base (left), whereas those of the Florida bonneted bat are joined (right).


Credit:

Elizabeth Braun de Torrez, UF/IFAS; Kathleen Smith, FFWCC, used with permission


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Velvety Free-Tailed Bat (Molossus molossus)

  • Is found only in extreme south Florida (the Keys and perhaps the Everglades region)

  • Typically roosts beneath roofs of man-made structures

  • Roosts in the Keys in moderately-sized groups (50–300 individuals)

  • Has ears that are not fully separated from one another (they are joined at the base)

  • Is about the size of a standard business card when it is at rest and its wings are folded

Additional Information

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Living with bats.

Marks, C. S., and G. E. Marks. Bats of Florida. 2006. University Press of Florida. Gainesville, Fl. 176 pp.

Ober, H. K., M. B. Main, and G. M. Allen. 2004. Bats of Florida. WEC186. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/UW203.

Ober, H. K., and F. J. Mazzotti. 2008. Conservation of Bats in Florida. WEC247. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/UW291.

Ober, H. K. 2008. Effective Bat Houses for Florida. WEC246. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw290.

Ober, H. K. 2008. Insect Pest Management Services Provided by Bats. WEC245. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. http:/edis.ufl.edu/UW289.

Wisely, S. M., and H. K. Ober. 2015. Facts about Wildlife Diseases: Rabies. WEC239. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. http:/edis.ufl.edu/UW282.

Acknowledgement

This publication is funded in part by the Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA).

Footnotes

1.

This document is WEC379, one of a series of the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 2016. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Holly K. Ober, associate professor and wildlife Extension specialist, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation; Terry Doonan, mammal conservation coordinator, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; and Emily Evans, mammal conservation biologist, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.