One of the UK’s larger bat species, albeit still very small, the greater horseshoe bat is one of two local species in the ‘Rhinolophus family. These can be easily identified by the unique, horseshoe shaped nose leaf, giving their face an appearance that only a mother could love – or a true bat enthusiast, like us and maybe you too?

Anatomy

The greater horseshoe bat is relatively large for a UK species, weighing in at a not-so-whopping 17-34 grams and reaching a maximum body length of 7 centimetres. As mentioned above, its face is one of the most obvious characteristic features, but if you’re not close up enough to get a good glimpse, their extremely mobile ears, or slow, low flight while foraging might give them away. Adults have grey or grey-brown dorsal fur which can have yellow or reddish tinge, no tragus in their constantly moving ears, and roost hanging free from ceilings or walls of caves, disused buildings or mines, with their wings encasing their body, like a leathery blanket. They are are easily differentiated from the smaller lesser horseshoe bat by the highly noticeable size difference. When handled (by someone with a licence, only!) their tail folds upwards.

Learn how to identify the greater horseshoe bat by watching this video.

The unique nose leaf of horseshoe bats allows them to focus their echolocation calls into a very direct beam which, along with a very high frequency call, makes it really difficult for their prey to be aware of their location.

Ecology

Feeding

Like all UK bats, the greater horseshoe bat is insectivorous. They mainly eat moths, cockchafers, and dung beetles, but will also take large insects such as caddisflies, arachnids (spiders and harvestmen), Diptera (flies) and Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps).

Greater horseshoe bats fly slowly, close to the ground or vegetation. They will generally hunt from a roost site, scanning the environment from a tree branch or cliff before taking off in hot pursuit of their prey. They use their wings as a collecting net, and then return to a feeding site to devour their catch.

Greater horseshoe bats usually prefer large prey, but in poor foraging environments they will diversify and take whatever insects they can get.

The greater horseshoe bat is often found close to pasture, due to them favouring prey species associated with dung. They will usually forage within a 5 kilometre radius of their roosting site.

Cow pats can be a lifeline for winter foraging

Reproduction

Female greater horseshoe bats begin to form their maternity colonies in May. Males are initially found at these roosts, but will leave once the young are born. Females give birth to a single pup weighing 5 to 6 grams between the end of June and the end of July and will feed their young for up to five weeks before they are capable of finding and consuming their own insect prey.

In late summer, seven or fewer males occupy a fixed mating roost which will be visited by females. Each year, females return to the same males to mate, often sharing the same partner with their female offspring, but never mating with their own fathers.

Habitat and roosts

Their preferred roost sites include roof spaces, caves and mines. In summer, they will seek roof spaces where they can be warmed by the sun, and in winter they hibernate in spaces with stable conditions, such as those found underground. They may hibernate alone, or within mixed colonies that contain other species.

Greater horseshoe bats are one of our longest living species, with wild individuals living into their thirties.

Location and habitat

Greater horseshoe bats are only found in the south-west of England and south and mid-Wales in the UK, but are more widespread throughout southern and eastern Europe.

Greater horseshoe bats live in areas with a habitat mosaic that includes hardwood forest, pasture, hedges, tree lines and orchards. They are void dwellers and are frequently found in caves, mines, tunnels and buildings.

Predators

Greater horseshoe bats are predated by birds of prey and domestic cats.

The remains of a greater horseshoe bat

Barn owl predation of greater horseshoe bat

Want to learn more about greater horseshoe bat – watch this video which explains where they live and how they catch prey.

Want to learn about different bats? Head to our Bechstein’s bat page.