The flying foxes are bats that are the largest bats in the world with the largest species having a wingspan of 5 ft 7in. (1.7 meters)! Despite their intimidating presence to some, they are gentle giants and eat primarily fruit. In fact, they are typically referred to as fruit bats.
There are 186 species of megabat. Those that are considered the flying foxes are comprised of about 60 species. The largest of these belong to the genera Acerodon and Pteropus. Most are nocturnal but some are active during the day.
Though they have intimating canines, they eat primarily nectar, flowers, fruit, leaves, and even bark. Like all bats they roost upside-down. Why? Their muscles are too weak to lift off from the ground, which hints that they evolved flight while in the trees.
Females of most species produce one pup a year and they mate with most members of the group frequently. Flying foxes don't use sonar to find food. They rely on sight and smell. This make sense as they don't need to hunt flying creatures flying at night. Because they are nectar, flower, and fruit eaters, they contribute to pollination. It can be argued that they are better pollinators as they travel longer distances increasing genetic diversity among the plants they feed on. They also can pass seeds through their systems in about 30 minutes. They are vital to tree dispersal and reproduction.
Megabats are quite gentle creatures, this gentleness however, puts them on many menus. Many species are threatened as the result of hunting and habitat destruction. They may also be killed for folk medicines which have no real medicinal value. In Australia, they are a protected species.
Megabats evolved from a common mammalian ancestor in Australia that at one time did not have wings. Bats appear to have split into two main groups. Both appear to have evolved sonar in their earlier evolution but one group lost this ability. Most likely, this was due to a dietary change. See the phylogenetic tree below:
As you can clearly see, the colloquial phrase that bats are just "rats with wings" is very far off. They share a closer relationship with dogs and foxes than they do a rat. It used to be believed that perhaps bats evolved from a type of primate but the genetic evidence shows that the lineage leading to primates split after the lineage split that led to bats. In other words, rats and bats are more distantly related than foxes and bats.
Feel free to watch the video (Narrated by Colin Salmon) below to see our amazing winged-mammal cousins in action in how they acquire water.
Wow! Just think about it, they are a mammal that can fly. Seems like every family of organism on the planet has at least one member species that developed the skill of flight or at least gliding.
Until Next time! Enjoy the wrapped cuteness on your way out. :-)