JungleWorld’s New High-Flyers
March 20, 2012
Meet the newest additions to the tropics of JungleWorld: giant Indian fruit bats. An impressive crew of 21 of these hefty mammals, which rank among the world’s largest bat species, share their swath of Bronx Zoo rainforest with gibbons, otters, and tapirs.
Indian fruit bats are commonly known as greater Indian flying foxes because of their size (their wings alone span 4–5 feet), reddish-brown coats, large eyes, and dog-like faces.
As pollinators and seed dispersers for various plants and trees, bats are a vital part of the ecosystems where they live. Unfortunately, they face a variety of threats around the world. “Many species are seeing significant population declines due to human activity and habitat loss,” said Jim Breheny, WCS Executive Vice President and Bronx Zoo Director.
During the day, these animals sleep upside-down, suspended from tree branches. They fan themselves with their wings to regulate temperature and vocalize to communicate with one another as they wrestle for roosts.
Unlike many bats, however, fruit bats are somewhat active during the day, as they navigate and find their food by sight. Other species of bats are only active at night and use echolocation to find meals of insects and small vertebrates.
Indian fruit bats roost communally in trees. With each bat tipping the scales at three pounds or more, these animals require sturdy tree branches to accommodate their weight. Luckily, JungleWorld’s tree canopy fits this bill, and the exhibit’s flight corridors also allow the bats to easily move through the foliage on their broad wings as they search for roosting and feeding areas. Zookeepers provide snacks for the animals at special feeding stations made of large mesh panels. This material allows the bats to land and hang while eating from their food dishes.
Indian fruit bats are largely found in Southeast Asia, but also occur in China. They live in large colonies ranging from hundreds to thousands of individuals. In the wild, they feed on a wide variety of fruits and flowers.
Although Indian fruit bats live throughout their range in healthy populations, their numbers are drastically declining due to hunting, habitat loss, and persecution by fruit farmers. The Wildlife Conservation Society works across the species’ Asian range and has studied these mammals’ migratory patterns in Cambodia and Malaysia to better understand how to protect them.