What Are Some Facts About the Flying Fox Bat?

flying-fox-bat Credit: Ryan Green/Gallo Images/Getty Images

"Flying fox" is a nickname given to several bat species in the suborder Megachiroptera, specifically bats in the genera Pteropus and Acerodon. The name comes from the resemblance that these tropical fruit bats bear to foxes.

Flying foxes are native to tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, Australia, Africa and several islands. All flying foxes feed on fruit or nectar and play an important rule in seed dispersal and pollination. Unlike bats of the suborder Microchiroptera, flying foxes are incapable of echolocation. Flying foxes do, however, have excellent eyesight and even possess color vision. This adaptation may aid them in locating fruit and flowers.

Flying foxes also have the distinction of being some of the world's largest bat species. The title of largest bat belongs to Acerodon jubatus, the golden-crowned flying fox. These bats approach 2 pounds in weight and possess wingspans of approximately 5 feet. The golden-crowned flying fox inhabits the Philippine Islands and, due to poaching and habitat loss, is endangered.

One unfortunate aspect of flying fox ecology is the tendency for these bats to become disease reservoirs. Being mammals, they are naturally susceptible to rabies, but megabats harbor other diseases as well. Rabies sickens bats, but other flying fox diseases are undetectable in the bats themselves. Ebola, Hendra virus and Nipah virus all have bat hosts.