Return to Rainforest Bats
The 'Megabats' (Including - 'Flying Fox', 'Fruit Bats' and 'Blossum Bats')
Suborder Megachiroptera, Family Pteropodidae
This is one of the two main suborders of the Chiroptera, and it's one family generally consists of the much larger species of bats.
The largest, an Asian species, has a wingspan of one and a half metres (Strahan 1998).
Unlike their smaller relatives, they tend to feed not so much on insects, but on fruit and/or nectar.
Because of this difference in diet, much about their biology is also quite different.
They tend to not have well developed echolocation, with most having none at all.
Instead, they have much better developed senses of sight and smell, and these are used in locating fragrant flowers and ripening fruit.
Their diet of flowers and large fruits means they are largely restricted to the more tropical forests of the world.
Of these warmer regions, they are only found in the 'old world' of Africa, Asia and Australia.
They are notably missing from the New World; there, some of the smaller Microchiropterans have filled in similar niches and are even locally known as 'fruit bats' (Emmons and Feer 1990).
Like the 'insect bats', these animals usually roost communally, hanging upside down.
Unlike their smaller relatives, however, they tend not to sleep in dark places, but roost hanging off trees.
Flying fox: Subfamily Pteropodinae
At first, these large bats alarm many people, due to their large size and harsh cackles and cries.
However a closer inspection reveals a rather more attractive view; the bats are given the name of 'flying fox' due to their intelligent, fox-like face.
Flying Fox are often referred to as 'fruit bats', although this is both a general term and one used for other slightly different (and less 'fox-like') species in the same family.
This alternative common name reflects their diet of fruit.
However they are not strictly fruit eaters, but rather fruit suckers.
The digestion of the fibres of fruit would require a larger stomach, a physical feature that such flying animals would rather do without.
They chew on the fruit and suck out the juice, spitting out the fibrous parts (this liquid pulp goes through their system relatively quickly, so the quick digestion and spitting are both good reasons to not stand underneath a feeding flying fox).
Flying Fox are attracted to the more odorous fruit, as this is how they locate it during the night when they feed.
Many of the fruits they feed on are those that we humans find attractive, and subsequently they commonly feed at orchards.
Their sense of smell and a liking for liquids also attracts them to the nectar offered by many species of flowering plants.
Flying fox in Australia
There are seven species of flying fox in Australia.
However there are really only four that are commonly seen - the 'Spectacled Flying Fox', (restricted to the north-eastern wet tropics), the 'Gray-headed Flying Fox', (the most common flying fox around the urbanized south-east centers such as Sydney and Brisbane), and the more widespread 'Black' and 'Little Red Flying Fox'.
The other 3 or so species are more obscure.
As they feed on fruits and nectar, they often raid the fruit grown in orchards, and currently there is much controversy regarding their 'pest' status.
They are also commonly found squawking and squabbling over strands of Melaleuca and Eucalyptus trees at night.