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Montana Field Guides

Big Brown Bat - Eptesicus fuscus

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4

Agency Status


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General Description
Big Brown Bat is among the more common species found in Montana. As the common name suggests, this is a relatively large species with dark brown to blond fur. Like the Little Brown Myotis (M. lucifigus), this species readily exploits man-made structures as roosts which make it among the more commonly encountered species in Montana. Big Brown Bats are found state-wide, and are most common where suitable roost structures exist such as buildings and rock outcrops. Across the state the species has been observed at 1,251 locations. Although this is significantly less that several other species, Big Brown Bat is more difficult to identify using acoustics which decreases the number of observations.

Big Brown Bat is a larger bat with overall brown to copper-colored fur. The muzzle is distinctively round and dark. Forearm length is 43-52mm. The uropatagium is unfurred on the posterior half and a keel is present on the calcar.

Diagnostic Characteristics
Big Brown Bats superficially resemble Myotis bats found in Montana, but can easily be distinguished by size. Even juvenile Big Brown Bats are larger than almost all Myotis except for exceptionally large Fringed Myotis (M. thysanodes, Bachen et al. 2018). Adult Big Brown Bats typically have dark brown membranes, and uniform pelage that varies from dark brown to blond. Adults typically have forearm lengths between 43 and 49 mm and weigh between 14 and 25 gr. Ears are relatively short and range from 11 to 15 mm. Forearm and weight should be used to separate this species from all Myotis. Other larger species of bats should be differentiated by general appearance. Some such as the Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus) can be differentiated by pillage pattern. Bats with uniform colored fur such as the Pallid Bat (Antrozous pallidus) and Townsend’s Big-eared Bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) have much longer ears.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Western Hemisphere Range


Range Comments
Big Brown Bat is found state-wide. However, the species is much less common across the grasslands of north central Montana likely due to lower roost densities.

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 1298

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Migration of Big Brown Bat has not been studied in Montana. Elsewhere movement of up to 80 km between summer and winter roosts have been documented (Mills et al. 1975). Few hibernaculum have been documented in the state (Bachen et al. 2019), but the species is known to use rock crevices in to overwinter in Alberta (Lausen and Barclay 2006), and may do so in parts of Montana as well (Bachen et al. 2020a). The species is also active during the winter across much of the state (Bachen et al. 2018), which may indicate that suitable overwintering sites are relatively common and if migration occurs, it is local rather than regional or continental.

Big Brown Bat is a generalist species and is found across Montana in a diversity of ecosystems including forests, shrublands, and grasslands. The only limiting factor appears to be suitable roost features, but given that the species roosts in trees, man-made structures, and rock outcrops (Bachen et al. 2019) roosts are rarely limiting in most areas.

During the active season the species has been found using cracks and crevices in rock outcrops, man- made structures such as bridges and buildings, caves, and trees. Maternity colonies in Montana have been found in buildings, bridges, and snags (Swenson and Shanks 1979, Bachen et al. 2019). Winter hibernaculum are poorly documented for this species. Few individuals have been found using caves (Bachen et al. 2019). In southeast Montana a south-facing rock outcrop was associated with activity across the winter, but roosting animals could not be directly observed (Bachen et al. 2020a). In badlands similar to many areas of eastern Montanan, the species is known to use rock crevices and erosion cavities (Lausen and Barclay 2006).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2012.  Mammals of Montana.  Second edition.  Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana.  429 pp.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Big Brown Bat consumes a diversity of insect types and species. Stomach contents analysis of 29 specimens from Carter County yielded a variety of insects including: Cleoptera, Diptera, Hemiptera, Lepidoptera, Homoptera, Hymenoptera, Neuroptera, Odoncata, and Trichoptera (Jones et al. 1973). Across the species range Coleoptera are significant portion of this species diet (Kurta and Baker 1990) and Lepidoptera compose a greater proportion of diet in western North America than eastern North America (Moosman et al. 2012).

In Montana activity decreases in October and animals likely hibernate from late October through March or April. Low levels of winter activity are associated with this species, although the purpose of these flights during cold weather are not known. Breeding occurs in the fall or winter and females likely give birth to a single pup (Kurta and Baker 1990), although this has not been studied in Montana specifically. Based on capture data young are born in mid-June with the first flighted young observed in mid- July (Bachen et al. 2017). Longevity has not been studied in Montana specifically, but the species has been observed to live up to 19 years in the wild (Paradiso and Greenhall 1967).

Reproductive Characteristics
Mating can occur anytime between September and March. In Montana, females have one young, usually born in late June. Young become capable of independent flight in 3-4 weeks.

Threats to this species are likely to operate on the local and regional scales. Big Brown Bats are impacted by White-Nose Syndrome (White-Nose Syndrome Response Team 2020). Further study of impacts in Montana will be required to determine if this disease will drive significant declines in Montana.
Mortalities of this species have not been documented at wind energy sites in Montana (Poulton and Erickson 2010, Linnell and Smucker 2019), but the species is occasionally killed in other areas of the country (AWWI 2018). In Montana roost destruction and disturbance is of great concern given the species use of man-made structures. In addition to impacts on local colonies due to intentional or unintentional removal, in at least one instance a colony was subject to poisoning through the application of DDT (Buchwitz et al. 2018).
Management of the species at the local scale should focus on education about best practices for colony removal, for example conducting work or sealing roosts during the winter to avoid destruction of maternity colonies and pup mortality. Continued monitoring of Big Brown Bat Populations should also be conducted to quantify impacts of WNS.

  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
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