OLD WORLD FRUIT BATS – Pteropodidae

OLD WORLD FRUIT BATS

FRUIT BATS FACTS

Bats are broken into two categories: the Microchiroptera (micro-keer-OP-ter-ah) and the Megachiroptera (mega-keer-OPter-ah). The vast majority of bats fall under the microchiropterans, which are in general smaller than the megachiropterans. Pteropodidae is the only family in the megachiropteran category. Pteropodids are commonly referred to as Old World fruit bats. The Old World refers to southern Europe, Asia, and Africa, while New World refers to North and South America.

Old World fruit bats have a wide range in size. Pygmy fruit bats are one of the smallest Old World fruit bats, with a head and body length of 2.4 to 2.8 inches (6 to 7 centimeters), smaller than many microchiropterans. Gigantic flying foxes are 15.7 inches (40 centimeters) long and can have a wingspan of 59 inches (150 centimeters).

In general, Old World fruit bats have large eyes that face forward. These bats have claws on the first finger, their thumb, and most also have claws on their second finger. Their faces are typically doglike, with simple and relatively small ears. Their wings are typically broad and mostly furless. The tail is usually short or absent. With so many different species, fur color varies greatly. Most species of the Old World fruit bat are reddish brown, gray, or black. The underside of the bat is usually a pale color, such as a white or yellow.

Teeth are shaped to bite through fruit skin and crush the soft fruit matter. The front incisors, chisel-shaped teeth at the front of the mouth, are small and all have canines, four pointed teeth. Teeth at the sides and back tend to be flat and wide. In some species, especially those that eat nectar, the tongue is long and can stick out far beyond the end of the mouth.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

Old World fruit bats can be found in tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, through southern and central Asia to Australia, including the Philippines, a number of islands of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, in Pakistan, and across India.

WHERE DO FRUIT BATS LIVE

Old World fruit bats live in a variety of habitats. Many fruit bats live in humid forests in tropical and subtropical areas. Species of flying foxes live in tropical coastal areas.

WHAT DO FRUIT BATS EAT

As their name suggests, Old World fruit bats eat fruit along with nectar. Some species eat primarily nectar and pollen, powdery grains that contain the male reproductive cells of seed plants. Other bats also add leaves and flower parts to their diet.

BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION

Like all bats, Old World fruit bats are crepuscular (kri-PUSkyuh-lur), active at dawn and dusk, or nocturnal, active at night. During the day they roost, settle or rest, by hanging from their feet. They may hang with their wings wrapped around their bodies. If it is hot, they may use their wings to fan themselves. Many of the species roost in extremely large groups, called camps. A bat camp may contain anywhere from ten individual bats to over one million. The larger species often roost in large groups, whereas the smaller species tend to be more solitary. Most roost in trees; others roost in caves, deserted mines, or buildings.

When fruit is not available fruit bats will travel to another area.The larger species are slow and powerful fliers. Some of these bats will fly as far as 30 miles (15 kilometers) to reach a new feeding area. Island bats may fly over to a neighboring island.

Old World fruit bats differ from other families of bats in that most use smell and sight, rather than echolocation (eck-oh-lohKAY-shun), to navigate and find their food. Echolocation is the technique of emitting sounds than detecting the location of objects from the echoes. Rousette bats are the only Old World fruit bats that use echolocation.

After these bats find their food they typically take it to away to a nearby tree. Smaller species are able to eat while hovering. Large Old World fruit bats, such as many of the flying fox species, may have to land or grab hold of a branch in order to eat the fruits. These bats hang upside down by one foot and use the other foot to hold the food. They bite off chunks of the food, swallow the juice, and spit out the pulp and seeds. Occasionally they also eat the pulp.

Within camps of flying foxes, one male fruit bat usually lives with up to eight female bats. This arrangement is called a harem (HARE-um). Females will produce one young per year. In other species the females may mate with two or more males while the males will mate with as many females as possible. At least one species is considered monogamous (muh-NAH-guh-mus), having one mate. Gestation, or pregnancy, is between four and six months.

OLD WORLD FRUIT BATS AND PEOPLE

Because Old World fruit bats spit out seeds as they eat, they are important for spreading seeds for many plant species that people eat, and use for medicine and materials. Fruits that depend on bats for pollination, the transfer of pollen, or seed dispersal include bananas, peaches, dates, avocadoes, mangoes, and cashews. The species that thrive on nectar are also important pollinators. As these bats lap up nectar with their tongues, pollen sticks to their fur and is then rubbed or dropped when the bat visits its next flower. These bats are an important disperser of many rainforest species, which the planet and people depend upon.

Deforestation, clearing the forest, has caused a decline in the population of many Old World fruit bat species as they lose their habitats and food supply. Forests also protect bats from natural storms, such as cyclones. People consider many of these bats pests, as they can destroy crops, and may try to eliminate them. Other people hunt and eat some of the Old World fruit bats, especially the larger ones. People such as the Chamorro of Guam consider flying foxes a delicacy.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Many of the Old World fruit bat species are facing a serious decline in population, extinction (dying out), and the threat of extinction. Eight species are listed as extinct by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Thirteen species are listed as Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild; six species are listed as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction; and thirty-six species are listed as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.