by Hannah Schardt
With its long nose, pointy ears, and big eyes, the Malayan flying fox in the photo above probably doesn't look much like the bats you are used to. That's because it is a fruit bat. Fruit bats live in Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. Most of the bats in the world—and all the bats in the United States—are microbats. And most microbats eat insects or other small animals.
Fruit bats and microbats have some important things in common: They are the only mammals that can fly. They hang upside down. And they usually like to fly at night. But if you think you know bats, fruit bats may surprise you. From what they eat to where they sleep to how they find their food, fruit bats are different from the bats most of us know best.
Spectacled flying foxes wrap their wings around their bodies to keep warm (above right). Most fruit bats rest in trees, not caves.
HOLD ON TIGHT, JUNIOR!
A lesser short-nosed fruit bat pup practices its hanging skills while Mom sticks close by (above).
FRUIT ON THE FLY
Fruit bats are sometimes called flying foxes. One glance at their foxy faces will tell you why. But they don't EAT like foxes. Foxes hunt meaty meals. Not fruit bats. The furry flyers have a serious taste for fruit. Bananas, mangos, dates, avocados—just about every kind of fruit is good food for these bats.
Sometimes fruit bats eat their snacks seeds and all. Later they poop wherever they happen to be. Their poop is chock-full of seeds. Some of those seeds take root and grow to become new fruit trees.
Fruit bats also slurp a sweet liquid called nectar from fruit blossoms. What happens next makes them very important for healthy forests—and for fruit-loving humans. When fruit bats stop to eat, sticky yellow grains of pollen get caught on their fur. Some of the pollen rubs off onto other flowers that the bats visit. That's how bats pollinate flowers, which allows the trees to develop fruits and seeds. Those fruits and seeds feed animals from insects to birds to monkeys. And some of them even feed people!
BATTY FOR BANANAS
A bunch of ripe bananas makes a good meal—and landing spot—for the golden fruit bat (top right photo). Even before they become fruit, banana blossoms provide a nectar meal for the lesser long-tongued fruit bat above right.
BAT VS. BAT
Can you spot the differences between the Indian flying fox (above) and the little brown bat (top left)? The little brown bat is an insect-eating microbat. (Check out the moth that's about to become a meal.) The Indian flying fox eats fruit.
And see the open mouth on the little brown bat? It's using echolocation. It lets out a call, then uses the echoes that bounce back to find its prey. Most fruit bats don't use echolocation. Instead, they use their big eyes, and great sense of smell to find food.
For several other easy-to-spot differences between fruit bats and microbats, check out the information below. When you add everything up, you'll see that a fruit bat is a very different sort of bat.
WHICH BAT IS THAT?
FRUIT BAT: Big Eyes, Small Ears, Long Nose
MICROBAT: Small Eyes, Big Ears, Flat Nose
FRUIT BAT RESCUE
Baby fruit bats, known as pups, really depend on their moms. Bat mothers provide milk and warmth for their babies, which cling to their moms for the first few weeks of life. So what happens when a mother bat gets sick—or dies? Sometimes, groups such as the Tolga Bat Hospital in Australia step in to help. Tolga rescues as many as 300 orphaned bat pups each year.
When a pup is rescued, it often badly needs water. It also may be covered with pests. At the bat hospital, workers remove any pests and give fluids to the pup. Then, for the next several weeks, they give food and comfort—just as its mom would. This means feeding it baby formula every few hours, keeping it warm, and even giving it a pacifier (above right). Eventually, the workers switch the pup's food from formula to fruit.
Once the bat is old enough, it starts making trips outside and learning how to live as a wild bat. Soon the strong, healthy bat can be released back into the forest.