Flying Foxes of Asia - Large and Fascinating Bats

The Large, Malaysian or Malayan Flying Fox

The large flying fox is found throughout Southeast Asia in forests and mangroves. Its wings are made of two layers of skin. The wingspan is usually about five feet, but sometimes reaches an amazing width of six feet. The bat weighs up to 2.4 pounds.

The large flying fox has large eyes, pointed ears and no tail. It's usually black, brown, red-brown or orange-brown in color. The chest may be bright orange, however, and the area between the shoulders may be orange or yellow. The hair on the bat's back is short and quite stiff, while the hair on its undersurface is longer and woolly.

Although the species name of the large flying fox ("vampyrus") may remind people of blood-drinking vampire bats, the flying fox eats plants. The bat is nocturnal and forages for fruit at night, starting at sunset and returning at dawn. It also eats flowers, pollen and nectar. It has a long tongue, which helps it reach the nectar inside a flower. Its teeth are adapted to cut through the tough outer covering of fruits.

The large flying fox plays an important role in its ecosystem. Flower pollen may become trapped on the bat's fur as it feeds and then fall off when the bat visits another flower. In this way the bat acts as a pollinator. The bat also helps to distributes the seeds of fruits. It squeezes fruits in its mouth to extract the juice and then spits out the dried pulp and the seeds. Since bats may carry fruit to a new area before they eat it, the seeds can germinate far away from their parent flower. Any seeds that are swallowed pass through the bat's digestive tract unharmed and are released into a new habitat in the feces.

The bat may fly as far as thirty one miles from its roost in order to find food. Unfortunately, it sometimes visits cultivated fruit trees to feed, which brings it into conflict with humans.

Large Flying Fox Roosts

During the day the large flying fox roosts in large communities in the tree tops. There are hundreds or even thousands of bats in most roosts. The branches in the area become stripped of their leaves and bark by the bats' claws. Bats sometimes compete for the best place to hang. They may spread their wings, strike other bats with their thumb claws and growl or shriek to express territoriality. Flying foxes produce a variety of vocalizations and can be very noisy, especially when feeding.

The bats sleep with their wings wrapped around their body. If they get too hot they open their wings to fan themselves. They may also lick their fur so that the evaporation of saliva cools them down. Occasionally they may leave the roost for a short flight. When they need to defecate or urinate, they turn upside down (from their point of view). They hang on to their support with their thumbs instead of their toes so that the waste falls to the ground and not on to their bodies.

Reproduction and Lifespan

A male large flying fox mates with several females. The gestation period is five or six months. Usually only one baby is born per female. Occasionally, twins are produced. The babies, or pups, have light colored haiir, which darkens as they mature. Females in a group produce their pups at the same time.

The young pup attaches itself to its mother's chest and is carried around by her, even while she's flying. After the first few days of its life, however, the mother leaves her pup in the roost while she forages for food. The pups suckle for two to three months.

Large flying foxes seem to live for about fifteen years in the wild. They have lived for as long as thirty years in captivity.