The order Chiroptera contains two suborders of bats: Megachiroptera and Microchiroptera. The single Megachiroptera family Pteropodidae contains the large fruit bats of Africa, Asia and Australia, which are also called flying foxes. The Indian flying fox (Pteropus giganteus) is one of the largest bats, and unlike the smaller Microchiroptera, which feed primarily on insects, the Indian flying fox is a frugivore, meaning it feeds on fruit.
The Indian flying fox has reddish brown fur, a long snout and large eyes, all of which make it resemble a fox -- hence its name. All bats have wings with a clawed thumb, and the Indian flying fox also has a claw on its second finger for grasping fruit. The wingspan of this large bat averages 4 to 5 feet, but can reach 6 feet in large adult males. Males weigh around 3 pounds, while females are a bit smaller. Unlike insect-eating bats that use echolocation, the Indian flying fox’s ears are small, as these bats rely on eyes and sense of smell to locate food sources.
Habitat and Distribution
These bats inhabit tropical forest and swamps and are usually found near a body of water. Banyan, tamarind and fig trees are favorite roosting trees. Common in India, Pakistan, the Maldive Islands and parts of China, Indian flying foxes form large colonies of several hundred to several thousand. Bats commonly remain in the same home tree for years, with dominant males roosting in the best spots. IUCN lists their status as “least concern.”
Diet and Feeding
As dusk approaches, the bats leave the roost in large numbers, seeking out fruit trees. They consume up to half their body weight daily in food and will travel long distances to feed, from 9 to 40 miles. Indian flying foxes eat mostly figs but also will dine on mango, guava and bananas, as well as cultivated fruit fields. Equipped with long tongues and piercing teeth, they will squeeze out the juice from the fruit and discard the dry pulp, thereby dispersing seed and enabling plant growth.
These bats form no pair bonds and mate yearly, from July through October. Births occur in February through May, after a gestation period of 140 to 150 days, which is long for its size. Females usually bear one young, although occasionally two are born. Females hang head up to let gravity help with the birthing process. Mothers carry the young for three weeks and nurse for about five months. Bats fly at about 11 weeks.
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Leslie Darling has been a writer since 2003, writing regularly for "Mississippi Magazine" and "South Mississippi Living," specializing in food and wine, animals and pets, and all things Southern. She is a graduate of the University of New Orleans.