Black Flying Fox Bat: Spreading Seeds One Meal at a Time

If you find yourself walking through one of Australia’s wooded areas, take a moment to look up at the tree canopy. Chances are good you’ll spot large black things hanging from the boughs that look like giant seed pods. Peer just a little closer and you’ll realize that what you’re really seeing isn’t seeds, they aren’t even vegetation, but rather the black flying fox bats (Pteropus alecto) that call Australia home.

Weighing between 1 and 2.5 lbs., they have a wingspan of 4-5 feet, making them significantly larger than the birds that share the woods. From a distance, they appear completely black, but on closer inspection, you’ll notice silver hair mixed with the black. A collar of reddish-brown fur adorns their neck and more reddish fur forms raccoon-like rings around their enormous eyes.

Like most flying fox bats, this is a very social species, not only do they roost in large colonies, they’re also happy to share their roosts with other bat species. It’s not uncommon to see little red flying fox bats and grey-headed flying foxes mingling with black flying foxes.

Day roosts (which are sometimes called camps) can contain as many as 30,000 individual bats, though these days, it’s rare to find that many bats in one place.

Maintaining a comfortable body temperature is a constant struggle for this species. When it’s cold, they’ll wrap their wings tightly around their torsos, holding in as much body heat as they can. When it’s hot, they spread their wings and start slowly flapping them, using them as fans to generate some air flow.

While not the fastest animal in the sky, the black flying fox isn’t a slouch in the speed department. It has been clocked at speeds of twenty to twenty-five miles per hour. It’s not unusual for them to travel as far as thirty miles from their roost to find food.

Black flying foxes form large colonies that roost in the tree canopies. Their favorite food is overripe mangos, though they’ll settle for other types of fruit as well. The best places to catch a glimpse of these winged sky giants are in northern and eastern Australia’s river estuaries, eucalyptus forests, rainforests, and paperback forests where they deposit seeds. The bat is mostly interested in extracting as much juice from the fruit as possible. They chew the fruit, using their teeth to mash it into a sticky pulp, extracting as much juice as possible before spitting the skin, pulp, and seed out.

While the mating season does vary from one region to another, as a rule, black flying foxes breed between February and April. When they decide it’s time to catch a female’s eye, the males select a small section of a branch and claim it as their own, defending it against any males who come to close. When not defending their branch, the males spend the bulk of the breeding season carefully grooming their soft fur and showing off their genitals.

Female black flying foxes plan their pregnancy around the times when food is most abundant. In the northern part of Australia, they give birth to a single pup in July and August, while mothers in the southern part of the country give birth between October and March. She’ll spend the first month following the pup’s birth carrying it with her at all times, not leaving it at the roost until it’s about four weeks old. Pups start flying and joining their mothers on foraging adventures between two and three months old.

The IUCN Red List currently has black flying foxes listed as least concern. While there’s some concern that the changing climate could lead to an increase in heat related deaths, on the whole, it’s felt that between the species wide range and the overall size of its population, the species will be around for a long time to come.

The biggest threat the black flying fox population currently faces is Sualwesi’s fruit bat hunting industry. It’s estimated that the hunting is responsible for a 20-25% decrease in the region’s population.

-Excerpt from 60 Beautiful Bat Facts

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