We are all a bit batty – Bat Education!

Yesterday was Blogathon day, and as you can see, I did not participate. I already had plans yesterday with my girl because two years ago I wrote her a letter asking her out. I don’t think she would have forgiven me if I ditched out on our plans to write in my blog every half hour.

Anyway, I did keep up on my Lee’s blog, which has always proved to be a large storehouse of information for paleo-nerds. Or, really, any nerd interested in the nitpickings of science. Sometimes I feel really smart when I read her blog. Other times… ha.

I wonder why she stays friends with me.

Anyway, it got me thinking a lot about my intentions when I first came to Northland. My plan was to major in Biology and slowly become a Bat Biologist. I love bats. I am a bat freak, I guess. My favorite are the flying foxes, named for their dog-like faces and large ears. They are true fruit bats, found in the Order of Chiroptera (or “hand-wing”). These true fruit bats are actually split into two groups: the Microchiropter (“small hand-wing”) and the Megachiropter (“large hand-wing”).

bat Of the fruit bats, my favorite bat in the whole world is the Giant Indian Fruit Bat, or Pteropus giganteus. Unlike some of their other cousins, this bat does not have a tail or a nose-leaf and their molars are not sharp (instead, they crush their food against the palate at the roof of their mouth). They grow to be about nine inches long and their wing-span can get up to four feet long making them incredibly strong fliers.

As much as I would love to see one, I’ve never gotten the chance (though I’ve seen many of their smaller cousins at our local zoo). This flying fox lives in India and several islands in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. They do not roost in caves; instead, their homes are found in tall, bare trees, high above the ground. As their name implies, they eat mainly fruit, but their diet also includes nectar, flower, and eucalyptus. They drink saltwater to make up for the lack of salt in their diet.

The Giant India fruit bat lives in large colonies known as camps. These colonies can get to be as large 250,000 bats. Many of them migrate north and south to different breeding camps, and unlike most bats found in the US, they don’t use echolocation to find their way around; they lack the complex neural and behavioral mechanisms). Instead, this bat has incredibly good eyesight and hearing. They are also, surprisingly, good swimmers and spend a lot of their time by water. I don’t know about you, but I would love to see a bat swimming!

bat One really interesting thing about this bat is that there is a vertical hierarchy found when they roosts. This is based on the males’ size and strength so that the very toughest of bats are found at the top of the tree. The males fight a lot and large groups of bats make an incredibly racket. There is a lot of vocal bickering and in camps as large as they are, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the roost. That’d be loud! Not only do they fight over the best and highest branches, but they are often fighting over their harems. A male bat usually has one or two female bats as mates and each family group has their own specific home in the camp. The males are fertile all year round (of course), but the females are only fertile for three months starting in January.

Baby flying foxes are born during the spring and are carried by their mothers for the first six to seven weeks and then they’re left in the tree. At three months they begin testing out their wings, and about a month after that they are weaned. During this time though the mother and child have very strong bonds and stick close together. Young flying foxes reach their maturity a little after a year.

bat Unfortunately, these beautiful creatures are often killed because they are pest to fruit farmers and for their meat (they are a delicacy in Guam). Old wives tales say their meat it also a good cure for rheumatism and if you tie their wing-bone to your ankle, childbirth will be painless. With the growing amount of telephone and electrical wires going up, there have been large casualties in the bat families and the more fruit farms going up means less habitat. Thankfully, in 1989, the bat trade has grown so much that the Giant Indian fruit bat was placed on the protective listing in the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species. Still, as of now, there are four species of flying fox extinct. A lot more needs to be done to save these wonderful species of bats.

Bats are cool. Unfortunately, I’m not so great at other aspects of biology and I ended up switching my major to Outdoor Education (where, not only can I teach about bats, but I can always teach little kids about tons of other creatures I’m interested in). So in the end, it worked out fine.

But there’s a little information about my favorite bat in the world. ‘Cause I’m a nerd like that. (Though not as much as a few other people I know…)

8 responses to “We are all a bit batty – Bat Education!”

  1. Leigh says:

    So fruit bats are adorable. Like really, really adorable.

    I want to squish one, but probably shouldn’t…

    That’s sad that four species have gone extinct, though. Really, really sad.


  2. nikki says:

    I know, I adore them to large extents. I could sit in the bat house for hours. I always make sure I time my visit right so I get there for their feeding time. They’re so cute when they’re slurping up fruit juice.

    Yeah, extinction = not good.


  3. Lauren says:

    This was a very informative post. The most exposure I have ever had with bats was back in sixth grade during science camp and how a couple got into the main hall building…thing. Not sure if they were fruit bats (do fruit bats live in the forests south of San Francisco?), but they were kind of cool.

    Writing a letter to ask someone out is so 1800’s. I love it. 🙂

  4. nikki says:

    As far as I know, all the bats found in California are insect eaters, not fruit bats. I might just be forgetting one, but I’m almost positive there are none.

    I know, I felt silly doing it, but it definitely got her attention. And she said yes, so yay!

  5. […] If you’re starved for a natural history sort of post, though, why don’t you check out my lovely Nikki’s newest blog entry? I’ve apparently inspired her to post extensive notes on the habits of fruit bats. […]

  6. Corky says:

    Nice article. So good to see positive bat writing. 24 species of bats in California. All eat insects, one also pollinates cactus while eating nectar.

  7. Lauren says:

    Bummer! I guess California has all the fruit-eating creepy crawlies they have to worry about (like the Mediterranean fruit fly…totally cool in that it’s somewhat related to Drosophila melanogaster), heehee.

    By the way, I moved my blog to here, just so you know.

  8. AlexM says:

    Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

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