|The Indian flying fox is one of the largest of
all bats and has a wingspan of more than four feet. It does not prey on
animals, feeding, instead, almost exclusively on a variety of fruit. The
Indian flying fox was named for the shape of its head and its reddish brown
fur, which resemble those of a fox. Flying foxes are the largest of all
bats and are found widely throughout Asia and Australia.
Habitat: The Indian flying fox lives in tropical forests and swamps, primarily in coastal areas. Where it does live inland, the bat is seldom found far from large areas of water. It is wide spread throughout the Indian subcontinent and is also found on the Maldive Islands. The Indian flying fox is one of the larger species of flying fox bats, and its strong flying ability has enabled it to colonize many of the islands throughout the Indian and Pacific oceans. Many species of flying fox are, in fact, found only on specific island groups. It is likely that their ancestors flew to the islands from the mainland or were blown there by strong winds.
By day the Indian flying fox roosts in communal sites, called camps, hanging upside down in a large tree. Favored roost sites are often used for many years, and the trees become stripped of bark and foliage by the bats’ sharp claws. The camps also have a musky odor that is characteristic of flying foxes. During the day the bats are noisy and active. Camps may contain several hundred to several thousand flying foxes. Within the roost there is often a pecking order whereby the more dominant males occupy the best roosting sites.
Food and Feeding: As darkness grows near, the Indian flying fox becomes increasingly restless. It leaves the roost with a group of other bats, and they fly to a feeding site that may be as far as 30 miles away. The Indian flying fox finds its way through the dark not by sound, as insectivorous (insect eating) bats do, but by sight and smell. Its eyes are far larger than those of most bats and more closely resemble those of nocturnal primates.
The Indian flying fox uses its large, flat molars to chew up a variety of fruit to obtain the juice. Very soft fruit such as bananas is swallowed, but usually the bat spits out the fruit pulp and seeds once it has extracted all the juice. The Indian flying fox also feeds on the juice and pollen of various tree flowers. Because the fruit on trees in a tropical forest does not ripen according to season, the bat must determine which trees have fruit about to ripen. Where the fruit is thinly scattered, the bats spread out at the feeding site. But more often, an entire group of bats descends on a few heavily laden trees and picks them bare.
Breeding: The Indian flying fox breeds from July to October. Mating takes place in the roost. Indian flying foxes do not form strong pair bonds, and males mate with any adult females roosting nearby. After five months – a long pregnancy for such a small mammal – the female gives birth to a single offspring. The young bat emerges feet first. The newborn is in a far more advanced state than are most other types of bat of the same age. It is alert and its eyes are open. It is covered with fur and weighs as much as nine ounces – nearly a third as much as its mother.
The care and feeding of the young are provided only by the female. For the first few weeks of its life, the newborn clings to its mother’s breast, even when she flies from the roost to feed. The young bat is nursed for five months but remains with its mother until it is eight months old. It is fully grown after a year but is not sexually mature until it is two years old.
Flying Fox and Man: Despite its large size, the Indian flying fox is less feared than other types of bats, such as the vampire bat. Rather than preying on animals, the Indian flying fox eats only fruit. While it once fed mainly on wild fruit, the bat now increasingly raids cultivated crops of fruit trees, which has brought it into conflict with man. In some areas it has posed such a threat to fruit farmers that it has been poisoned. The Indian flying fox is also hunted in parts of Pakistan for its fat, which is used for medicinal purposes. In the past 50 years, many small oceanic islands have been almost completely deforested and, as a result, the flying fox populations have experienced a decline.
Related Species: There are over 60 species of flying fox in the genus Pteropus, including P. vampyrus, the largest of all bats. All are closely related to each other.
Distribution: Widespread from the Maldive Islands of the Indian Ocean through Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Burma.
Conservation: The Indian fox is less endangered than many of the less numerous island species of flying fox, but its numbers have been reduced where it has been hunted extensively and where its habitat has been destroyed.
Features of the Indian Flying Fox:
Did You Know:
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