The Large or Malayan Flying Fox - A Fascinating Bat of Asia

A photo of a large, Malayan or Malaysian flying fox
A photo of a large, Malayan or Malaysian flying fox | Source

The Impressive Flying Fox

Flying foxes are fascinating bats. As their name suggests, they look somewhat like foxes which have developed wings and taken to the air. They have pointed, fox-like faces with large eyes and small ears. The large or Malayan flying fox of Southeast Asia is a giant of the bat world and has a wingspan of up to six feet. In North America, the term "flying fox" often refers to this animal.

Flying foxes belong to the family Pteropodidae. At least 170 species exist, the exact number depending on the classification scheme that's used. They are also known as fruit bats, since their diet consists of fruits and other plant parts, and as megabats, since their family contains the largest bats in the world. Not all megabats are large, however. Unlike other bats (the microbats), flying foxes don't use echolocation to hunt for their prey. Instead, they use their excellent senses of sight and smell to help them find their food and escape from danger.

The large or Malayan flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus) is often considered to be the largest bat in the world, although sometimes other bats are given this honour. Its population is classified as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In some parts of the bat's distribution its numbers are decreasing rapidly due to hunting and habitat loss.

Structure of a Bat Wing

A Mexican long-tongued bat (a microbat) at a hummingbird feeder
A Mexican long-tongued bat (a microbat) at a hummingbird feeder | Source

Bats - Mammals That Can Fly

Like other mammals, including humans, bats have hair on their body and make milk for their young. Bats are the only mammals that can fly, however. Other mammals that appear to fly, such as flying squirrels, actually glide. Bats flap their wings to propel themselves through the air. The wings are made of webs of skin supported by hand, arm and leg bones. Bats either have no tail or have a tiny, non-functional remnant of a tail.

Most bats are nocturnal, sleeping in a protected place during the day and becoming active at night. Microbats are able to carry out a process called echolocation, which helps them find their prey. Most of these bats eat insects. When they're hunting, they emit ultrasonic sound waves though their nose or mouth. "Ultrasonic" sounds are too high for us to hear. The sound waves bounce off the prey and return to the bats, enabling them to detect the presence and position of the prey. In general, megabats can't carry out echolocation. The Egyptian fruit bat is an exception. It uses a simple type of echolocation to navigate in the dark.

The undersurface of a bat wing, showing the free thumb
The undersurface of a bat wing, showing the free thumb | Source

Bat Anatomy - Skeleton and Wings

A bat's skeleton has some special adaptations to allow the animal to fly. The thin arm bones bend at the elbows and end in very long and skinny finger bones. The arms and the fingers support a membrane made of skin, which forms a wing.

The thumb is shorter than the other fingers and is free of wing. A curved claw is present at the tip of each thumb. This claw enables the bat to grab hold of supporting objects as it climbs or travels around with its wings closed.

The wings extend to the back legs. The feet have clawed toes, which help the bat move and are used to cling to a support when the bat is hanging upside down. Often a bat hangs by just one foot. The knees point backwards when they're bent. Some bats move rather clumsily on land, but all are graceful fliers.

A Bat Skeleton

A drawing of the skeleton of the Indian flying fox
A drawing of the skeleton of the Indian flying fox | Source

Bat Roosts and Camps

The majority of bats hunt for their food during the night and sleep in their roost during the day. A "roost" is a place where bats live. When bats are present in their roost they are said to be "roosting". Common sites for roosts are caves, but bats also roost in tree canopies and cavities, under bridges or roofs, in abandoned mines, basements or attics, in rock crevices and in wall cavities. When many bats use the same roost, the area is sometimes called a camp.

The little red flying fox of Australia has been known to form camps containing over a million bats. As the bats stream out of their camp they produce a very impressive sight. Large roosts containing many bats are thought to provide benefits such as increased warmth in the roost, better protection of the babies and predator confusion created by a huge number of bats flying at the same time.

A Flying Fox Moving Around With the Help of its Thumb Claws

The Large, Malayan or Malaysian 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 colour. 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.

The Large Flying Fox - A Megabat

Diet

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.

Large flying floxes may fly more than thirty miles from their roost in order to find food. Unfortunately, they sometimes visit cultivated fruit trees to feed, which brings them into conflict with humans.

A Captive 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 are 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.

A large flying fox hanging by one foot
A large flying fox hanging by one foot | Source

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. The animals seem to live for about fifteen years in the wild. They have lived for as long as thirty years in captivity, however.

Flying Foxes in a Zoo Cave

The IUCN Red List

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) monitors the populations of flying foxes and other animals. It maintains a list of animal species - the Red List - and uses the following categories to classify the population status of each species. In general, the categories range from the least serious state to the most serious. The "Not Evaluated" and "Data Deficient" categories could mean that a popuation is in trouble, however. The large flying fox is classified in the Near Threatened category.

  • Not Evaluated
  • Data Deficient
  • Least Concern
  • Near Threatened
  • Vulnerable
  • Endangered
  • Critically Endangered
  • Extinct in the Wild
  • Extinct

The Black Flying Fox or Pteropus alecto in Australia

Population Status of the Large Flying Fox

The large flying fox faces a number of problems. In many places its forest habitat is being cleared for human use. In some areas it's treated as an agricultural pest and is shot or poisoned. It's widely hunted for food and sport, often legally. Illegal hunting also occurs. In addition, the bat is killed for its fat, which is used in traditional medicine.

There are laws protecting the bat in some parts of its range, but they aren't always enforced. The animal flies long distances during foraging and during migration to new roosts. It often travels over national boundaries, so international laws are needed.

The IUCN says that although the status of the large flying fox population is "near threatened" at the moment, the animal is close to "vulnerable" in status. Some conservationists think that in certain parts of its range the bat could become extinct within the lifetimes of people living today. It would be a great shame if this magnificent animal disappeared from the Earth.

© 2013 Linda Crampton

More by this Author


73 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

The picture at the hummingbird feeder was very cool. Great information, Alicia!

Have a great weekend.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment, Bill. I hope that you have a great weekend as well!


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 3 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

Hi Alicia, thanks for the hub as I love flying foxes. Some bat experts have argued that they are in fact primates, as they are very intelligent and have very similar skeletons. One of the things I loved while travelling in the Kimberley in Australia was watching the fruit bats flying out to forage as the sun was setting.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Cynthia. Thanks for the comment. I would love to go to Australia and see flying foxes! I've heard about the theory that flying foxes are actually primates. It's a very interesting idea! They do seem to be very different from the microbats, even though both groups have developed a wing.


kashmir56 profile image

kashmir56 3 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi my friend loved all the great information about these flying fox bats, and the beautiful photos and videos were so awesome . Well done !

Vote up and more !!! Sharing !


drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida

These flying fox bats are awesome, Alicia, and I'll take your word for it that they are not vampires, but just the same, do not think I will be interviewing any in the near future. Excellent hub, m'dear.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Tom. Flying foxes are amazing animals. It's great fun to write about them! Thank you very much for the comment, the votes and the share.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the comment, drbj. I appreciate your visit, as always. I agree with you - flying foxes are awesome!


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

Alicia. What a great look at this amazing creature. That photo at the feeder is incredible. How sad that humans are always the reason that these wonderful creatures are threatened. Hopefully more will be done to ensure that they are around for a very long time. Really enjoyed this hub. Voted up , shared and pinned that photo.


Jared Miles profile image

Jared Miles 3 years ago from Australia

Thanks for all the information you've provided here today AliciaC! I liked the videos you placed in your Hub, and you've obviously put in lots of effort to produce a high-quality piece of writing. Thanks again, voted up.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Bill. Thanks for the comment. The photo of the bat at the feeder is wonderful. The photographer did an excellent job! I hope that flying foxes survive for a long time, too. I appreciate the vote, the share and the pin.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment and the vote, Jared. I appreciate them both. It's nice to meet you!


Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii

Ieee! I hope I never 'meet' the world's biggest bat in person! Those look huge! I like the little guys, though. There's been one living in my parents barn for ever and my sister called him Bartok! I hope the fox bat's population situation improves. =(


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit, Natasha. I would love to get to know a bat like Bartok! I like the big bats as well. They're all interesting!


Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 3 years ago from Hawaii

I have no idea what kind of bat 'he' is. My family lives in the southeast and it's smallish and furry! That's about all I have =)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

It's great that Bartok has a place to roost, whatever type of bat he or she is!


Elias Zanetti profile image

Elias Zanetti 3 years ago from Athens, Greece

Interesting and informative hub, Alicia. Never heard of this particular bat before but flying foxes look fascinating!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Elias. Thank you for the visit and the comment. Yes, flying foxes are fascinating!


Sue Bailey profile image

Sue Bailey 3 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK

So interesting Alicia. These are beautiful creatures. Voted up and shared.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Sue. Thanks for the comment, the vote and the share. As always, I appreciate them all!


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

I have a lot of respect for these wonderful creatures. Through false history, they got a bad rap. They do a great job in bug control and are harmless.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Deb. Yes, microbats can be a great help with insect control. It is a great shame that bats aren't always respected. Thanks for commenting.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

Oh so interesting and your obvious hard work has certainly paid off. great hub.

Eddy.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, Eddy!


epbooks profile image

epbooks 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

Wow- very interesting. I'm not typically afraid of bats, as here in Vegas, we have many, but I'm not sure how I'd react if I saw the Malayan Flying bat coming toward me! A little intimidating even though they eat plants. Thanks for writing this- very well written and informative.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, epbooks. Yes, an approaching megabat would certainly be more intimidating than a microbat flying towards us! Thank you very much for the visit and the comment.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

Absolutely gorgeous creatures Alicia, I just love their little faces, and yes they do look like foxes or at least dogs, I remember going to Morocco years ago and seeing huge bats in the sky in the evening, it was an awesome sight, not sure if they were these though. Fascinating info and facts, voted up and shared, nell


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the vote and the share, Nell. I agree - flying foxes are gorgeous! Some bats live near my home. None of them are as big or as dramatic as a flying fox, though.


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

This was very interesting, Alicia! I cannot imagine seeing a bat with a wingspan of 5-6 feet! I especially enjoyed that photo of the bat at the hummingbird feeder. Very cool! Voted up and more.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, FlourishAnyway! I appreciate your comment and the votes.


starbright profile image

starbright 3 years ago from Scandinavia

What a wonderful creature. We have bats, but nowhere near as big as these. Very, very interesting hub, which is very worthy of a round of applause and is naturally voted up.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the lovely comment, starbright! I appreciate the vote, too!


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

Wonderfully interesting useful and loved from beginning to end Alicia. Enjoy your day.

Eddy.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you so much for the comment, Eddy. I hope you have a great day.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 3 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

Awesome pictures and information. We used to have lots of these bats in Subic, Philippines. But they numbers have gone down.


SeThCipher profile image

SeThCipher 3 years ago

I have seen them !!! ;-)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the information, jpcmc. It's sad that the population has decreased, especially when the bats were once so numerous.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

That must have been an interesting experience, SeThCipher!


rose-the planner profile image

rose-the planner 3 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

A very insightful article and truly worthy of HOTD, congratulations! I have to say, all bats creep me out, lol. Thanks for sharing. (Voted Up)

-Rose


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, the congratulations, and the vote, Rose! I appreciate your visit, especially when bats aren't your favorite animal!


pinto2011 profile image

pinto2011 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

Hi Alicia! You have really detailed out every bit of information about this flying mammal.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, pinto2011!


queerlyobscure profile image

queerlyobscure 3 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

I think flying foxes are adorable. I use to love watching them in the Melbourne botanic gardens when there were night-time events on in the summer. Never seen one as big as six feet, though!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I can definitely understand why you think that flying foxes are adorable, queerlyobscure! They are very interesting animals - and I think they're cute, too! Thanks for the visit.


krushnach80 3 years ago

Great hub well researched topic and extensive review


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, krushnach80!


krushnach80 3 years ago

Welcome


SonQuioey10 profile image

SonQuioey10 3 years ago from Williamston NC

Fascinating creature. Great article. Congratulations.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment and the congratulations, SonQuioey10.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 3 years ago from United States

I had never heard of flying foxes before and this hub is very interesting and informative.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, Pamela99. I appreciate the comment.


MJennifer profile image

MJennifer 3 years ago from Arizona

I'm a bat fan and enjoy having abundant bats visiting our property every night. They're generally the little pipistrelles, though; I've never had the pleasure of seeing a ginormous bat like the "flying fox." I enjoyed getting to know them through your excellent hub.

Congratulations on seeing it receive the well-deserved recognition of HOTD!

Best wishes -- MJ


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, MJ. I appreciate your kind comment and the congratulations! I'm a bat fan, like you. Bats are very interesting animals.

Best wishes to you, too!


W1totalk profile image

W1totalk 3 years ago

This article is very strong, very insightful, clear and crisp. The video just at that extra touch. Thank you.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, W1totalk.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Congratulations on this hub winning Hub of The Day. Well deserved! This was fascinating and your description, the pictures and videos were absolutely amazing. What an incredible creature this flying fox is. He really does look like a fox with enormous wings. I wouldn't like to meet one of these at night.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Peg. "Incredible" is a great adjective to describe the flying fox! It's an amazing animal. Thank you very much for the comment and the congratulations.


DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Wow! Incredible video, and flying foxes are so different, and you have accomplished an excellent hub on Flying Foxes of Asia - Large and Fascinating Bats


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you so much for the comment, DDE!


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 3 years ago from malang-indonesia

Amazing, Alicia. You always share wonderful things like this one. I really enjoy the lesson from you today. Thank you very much. Take care!

Prasetio


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the kind comment, Prasetio!


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

Although these animals appear to be fearsome, they are surprisingly affectionate. I once saw a show with Jeff Corwin where he was walking through the jungle and an orphaned flying fox bat dropped down and clung to him. The bat was really sweet, like a giant puppy with wings. Nonetheless, I can understand why people fear them. One time in the Philipines, when I went out for a jog around dusk, I looked up by chance and was horrified when I saw an enormous flock of these bats flying overhead. I turned around and headed back quickly. Great hub!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment and for sharing the interesting stories, Mel. Flying foxes are certainly impressive animals!


ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

Very interesting article. These animals are kind of cute and cuddly, but also a little creepy looking. Voted up and shared.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment, ologsinquito. Flying foxes do look weird compared to many other animals, but they also have a cute side to them! They are unusual and interesting animals. I appreciate your vote and the share.


greenspirit profile image

greenspirit 2 years ago from London

Hi Alicia, I'm fascinated by bats and I really enjoyed your piece on Flying Foxes. We have lovely little Pipistrelles visiting from the nearby woods most evenings. They manage to flit and swoop between the houses at amazing speed, often faster than the eye can follow. Our biggest bat is the Noctule (palm sized), so I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to have these guys around.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

How wonderful to see bats around your house almost every evening! I would love to have bats as visitors. Thank you very much for the comment, greenspirit.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 2 years ago from California

This is just such an interesting hub! I love bats!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, Audrey. I love bats, too!


chef-de-jour profile image

chef-de-jour 2 years ago from Wakefield, West Yorkshire,UK

On a recent visit to the Pantanal in Brazil we watched fish eating bats looking for their supper on the Rio Miranda. Fascinating creatures. You've done a great job promoting the flying fox, a wonderful animal of the night.

Votes and a share.


VioletteRose profile image

VioletteRose 2 years ago from Chicago

Very interesting, they do look like foxes!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the interesting comment, the votes and the share, chef-de -jour!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks, VioletteRose. Yes, the bats do look like foxes! They're an interesting sight.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton (AliciaC)1,248 Followers
    426 Articles

    Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honours degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about animals and plants.



    Click to Rate This Article
    working