Flying Fox: Description, Habitat, & Facts

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Table of Contents

Flying Fox Definition

SpeciesOver 60
Weight0.26 to 3.53 lb (120 to 1,600 grams)
LifespanUp to 15 years in the wild, 30 years in captivity
Social StructureSocial, live in large colonies
StatusVarious – some are threatened due to overhunting
HabitatTropical Forests
Average litter size1
FoodFruits, vegetation, and insects
Predators Snakes, birds of prey, and humans

What is Flying Fox?

The Fox bat, often known as the Flying Fox, is a megabat genus (Pteropus). This genus has around 60 species of bats that can be found on tropical islands ranging from Madagascar to Australia, Indonesia, and mainland Asia. They’re fruit bats from the past. Flying foxes are the largest bats, with a wingspan of 5 feet (1.5 meters) and a head and body length of 16 inches (40 cm).

The flying fox features a fox- like head with short ears and large eyes, as their name suggests. Their claws are sharp and curled on their toes. These huge bats eat fruit and other plants, as well as insects that they find using their excellent sense of smell. Most species are nocturnal and rely on their vision to travel because they lack the ability to use echolocation like other bats.

These bats have binocular eyesight and are able to see in low light. Individuals and family groupings reside in vast colonies where these sophisticated animals live. They set up permanent and semi-permanent camps in locations where food is plentiful.

These flying foxes can be heard making numerous cries to communicate as they leave to feed or return to sleep at dawn and twilight. They roost on trees throughout the day because they are usually nocturnal. Flying foxes live for a long time and reproduce slowly, with most females having only one offspring each year.

As a result, they are subject to hazards including culling, overhunting, and natural calamities. Overhunting has resulted in the extinction of six species in recent years. Farmers typically regard flying foxes as pests because of the harm they bring to crops.

Flying foxes have been blamed in various nations for ruining fruit and nut crops, including areca in India, almonds, mangos, and guavas in the Maldives, lychee in Mauritius, and stone fruits in Australia. By 2018, the IUCN had assessed 62 species of flying fox.

Three are extremely endangered, seven are endangered, twenty are vulnerable, six are near threatened, and fourteen are of low concern. Eight of the remaining 12 species have insufficient evidence to adequately assess their state, and four are thought to be extinct.

Flying Fox Species

The Grey-headed Flying Fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) is Australia’s largest bat. It is Australia’s sole endemic flying fox species, and the IUCN has classified it as vulnerable.

One of the largest bat species is the Large Flying Fox (Pteropus vampyrus). The males have stiffer and thicker coats than the females, with long and woolly hair. The coat’s colour and texture can also differ between sexes and age groups.

South Central Asia is home to the Indian Flying Fox (Pteropus giganteus). These flying foxes are found in tropical forests and wetlands, and they prefer to sleep among banyan, tamarind, and fig trees near water sources.

Pteropus lylei (Lyle’s Flying Fox) can be found in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. They can also be found in China’s Yunnan province. They are a medium-sized bat with a black colour scheme and an orange fur collar. These bats are categorised as fragile because they are threatened by habitat loss, hunting, and farm persecution.

The Pteropus scapulatus (Little Red Flying Fox) is a small flying fox that can fly and climb well. They are nomadic bats that wander from one forest to the next or from one coastal location to the next in search of their favoured food. They can be found in the northern and eastern parts of Australia.

Fun Facts About Flying Fox

Flying foxes are intriguing species that live in tropical forests and contribute much to the ecosystem. These winged animals’ biological traits make them particularly interesting to study. Let’s take a closer look at it now!

i. Rapid Digestion

Like other bats, flying foxes have a fast digesting system. They have outstanding chewing and fragmentation abilities. This means that the digestive enzyme has a larger surface area to work with. They have such a fast digestive system that they can start defecating within 30 to 60 minutes of eating. This can help them carry less weight throughout their flight. These bats can eat anywhere from 25 to 35 percent of their body weight every day.

ii. Flying Foxes Carrying Viruses

Hendra virus and Australian Bat Lyssavirus are reported to be carried by flying foxes. These bats are known to carry the Hendra virus (HeV), which can occasionally spread to other species, including horses, causing them to die. HeV was first found in 1994 in samples taken during a respiratory and neurologic sickness outbreak in horses and humans in Hendra, a Brisbane suburb.

Human infection is extremely rare; only seven cases have been documented between 1994 and 2013. Bats can transmit the Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) to humans. This virus, which is closely linked to the rabies virus, was originally discovered in 1996.

It has been discovered in four different species of flying fox. Infection with the ABLV virus in humans can cause paralysis, delirium, convulsions, and death.

iii. Vital Role in Ecosystem

Flying foxes play a crucial role in maintaining the health of tropical forests by distributing seeds and pollinating flowers. As they crawl or fly between flowers and trees, pollen attaches to their fur, which they subsequently carry to other plants.

Bats are essential to the ecosystems in which they live, accounting for about half of the animal species present in most tropical forests. These bats are far more important to the environment than previously believed. When it was previously assumed that flying foxes were harmful and caused damage to this crop, researchers have revealed that they are quite successful at pollination durian trees.

The tropical durian fruit is highly regarded in Thailand and Malaysia, where it earns millions of dollars in local and international trade.

Flying Fox Citations
  • Hendra virus ecology and transmission. Curr Opin Virol . 2016 Feb;16:120-125.
  • Seasonal reproduction in flying foxes, reviewed in the context of other tropical mammals. Reprod Fertil Dev . 1993;5(5):499-521.
  • Newly discovered viruses of flying foxes. Vet Microbiol . 1999 Aug 16;68(1-2):83-7.


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