Malayan Flying Foxes: Beautiful Bat Facts

The giant golden-crowned flying fox is big, but with adult males often tipping the scales between 645g and 100g (about 2-3 lbs.) and developing a 6 foot wingspan, the Malayan flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus) is just a bit bigger. One glimpse at these stunning animals and you know you’re in the presence of a megabat. It’s common for a person to call Malayan flying foxes large flying foxes.

The appearance of the Malayan flying fox varies from bat to bat. By the time the bat reaches sexual maturity, the fur on their neck has turned a rich reddish black or deep russet color. During the breeding season, it’s not uncommon for the neck fur to brighten. If you are at an educational exhibit that features representatives of the species, you’ll notice that in addition to being slightly smaller than the males, the females also have softer, thinner fur.

Spotting Malayan Flying Foxes in Their Native Environment

Unlike many flying fox bat species that stick to a very limited range, there are lots of places you can go where you stand a good chance of spotting these magnificent creatures. Their range includes”

  • Parts of Australia
  • Madagascar
  • Mainland Asia
  • Southern Vietnam
  • Timor
  • East Philippines

As a rule, this species prefers to roost in swampy, tropical areas, and generally choose roost sites that are located in secondary forests. It’s not at all uncommon for a tree that’s been selected as a roost site to contain over a thousand bats. In Australia, Malaysian flying foxes and Giant Golden-Crowned flying foxes are frequently found roosting together. The species spends its day roosting and catching up on sleep. At night, their appetites get the better of them and they leave the safety of their roost and go in search of food.

When they leave the roost to forage for fruit, they frequently head towards large agricultural plantations where they are the most likely to find a nice selection of fruit. This species favors feeding grounds that are between 0.4 and 12 km away from their roost, though it’s not unheard of for the adults to fly as far as 60 Kilometers (37 miles) when searching for something to eat.

When the Malayan flying foxes leave the roost and begin foraging, they fracture into smaller family groups. It’s possible for one of these family units to fly just a few feet over your head without you hearing them since their echolocation pulses are higher pitched than your ears are designed to detect. That changes once the bats find something to eat. At that point they go into a full fledge feeding frenzy, that includes cries, growls, wing beating, and even screaming. The noise can be quite unbearable.

Although the species prefers to eat fruit, they’re also active pollinators. The average Malayan flying fox is particularly fond of mangroves.

When it comes to reforestation efforts, the Malayan flying fox bat is worth it’s weight in gold. The animal’s large size allows it to easily carry even large seeds away with it. The fact that they range so far means the seeds get dispersed a long way from the parent tree, improving genetic diversification and the overall health of that particular type of fruit tree species.

The General Attitude Towards Malayan Flying Foxes

The way people feel about Malayan flying foxes varies. Tourist love them and frequently spend quite a bit of time trying to get a nice picture of one of these massive bats while it’s roosting or flying.

On the other hand, farmers are less impressed by the bats. They consider them pests and work hard to discourage the bat from feeding on their fruit crop. Preferred methods used to drive the bats from fruit plantations include:

  • Nets
  • Whirling devices
  • Bright lights

Since many believe that the Malayan flying fox may have been the species that introduced the Nipah virus to Malaysia, India, and Bangladesh, people who live in close contact with the species are wary of the bat and try to keep their distance.

Life Habits of the Malayan Flying Fox Bats

Like a vast majority of bat species, Malayan flying foxes engage in polygynous behavior. Experts believe that a healthy male that exhibits good genetic characteristics will mate with approximately 10 females during a single breeding season. Females resist fertilizing the egg until she’s satisfied that the conditions are ideal for her to be able to maintain both her health and the health of her pup. Gestation takes six months and after its birth, she carries the pup with here wherever she goes until the young bat is old enough to stay at the roost with the offspring of its mother’s harem mates. The mother doesn’t fully wean the pup until it’s 2 or 3 months old.

Although Malayan flying foxes typically roost in large groups that often include more than a thousand bats, experts have noted that within the huge colony, there are smaller, harem style groups which include a handful of females and a single male. Males are diligent about protecting their harem, especially against the intrusion of bachelor males.

Malayan Flying Fox Status

ICUN currently has the Malayan Flying Fox listed as Near Threatened. While the overall population is in a state of decline, it’s decreasing at a rate that’s currently less than 30% per ten years. The two main threats to the species are habitat destruction and hunting. ICUN believes that if something doesn’t change soon, the species status will be changed to vulnerable.

Sources:

Norton, K. 2011. “Pteropus vampyrus” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 13, 2017 at http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Pteropus_vampyrus/

“Large or Malayan Flying Fox.” Lubee Bbat Conservancy. Accessed 13 December 2017. Web. http://www.lubee.org/bats/our-bats/large-flying-fox-or-malayan-flying-fox/

“Malayan Flying Fox.” Organization for Bat Conservation. Accessed 13 December 2017. Web. http://cms.batconservation.org/drupal/malayan-flying-fox

“Pteropus vampyrus .” The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed 13 December 2017. Web. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/18766/0

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