Bat, Malayan Flying Fox

ORDER: Chiroptera

FAMILY: Pteropodidae

GENUS: Pteropus

SPECIES: vampyrus

Of the 60 species of flying foxes, P.vampyrus is among the largest. This bat's wingspan is 5 to 6 feet and weight is up to 1000 gm (2.2 lb.) (Per one reference Acerodon jubatus can be larger, weighing up to 1200 grams.) Pelage is long and silky with a dense underfur. Hairs comprising the mantle are longer than those on other parts of the body. Coloration is grayish brown or black with the area between the shoulders often yellow or grayish yellow. Underparts are black. (Various other colorations have been reported, e.g. reddish to black heads, orange to black mantles, depending on subspecies). No tail is present. As the name suggests, the head resembles that of a small fox. Females have one pair of mammae located in the chest region. Ears are simple (long and pointed) with the outer margin forming an unbroken ring. Toes have sharp curved claws. Scent glands produce a strong musky odor.

Southern Burma, Thailand and Indochina, Borneo, Java, Malaysia, Philippines, Timor. Forests and swamps, often on small islands near coasts.

Herbivorous. Fruits, flowers, nectar, pollen and leaves. Principal food is fruit juice, obtained by squeezing pieces of fruit pulp in the mouth, then spitting out pulp and seeds. The Malayan Flying Fox can eat half its body weight in food daily.

Nocturnal with limited daytime activity. These flying foxes roost in emergent trees that rise above the forest canopy. They roost in noisy groups of a few dozen to thousands. They leave roost trees near sunset in a loose stream and may fly nightly up to 50 km to reach their feeding grounds. In feeding areas they separate into family or feeding groups of a few to 50. Territorial behavior, i.e. spreading wings, swinging and growling, may be used to discourage other bats from landing on an especially good tree; the presence of flowers on trees seems to promote this behavior. They eat and rest in the fruit trees and return to the day roost at dawn. After a period of squabbling over suitable roosting sites, they settle down with wings wrapped around their body. During warm parts of the day, they will cool themselves by fanning their wings, licking their chest and wings, and panting. Females give birth synchronously during a single annual peak, although the peak varies geographically and seasonally. Most births occur from February to May. Gestation takes approximately 180 days and usually a single pup of around 133g is born (twins rarely). The young suckle for 2-3 months. They are carried for the first few days, but subsequently are left in the roost tree. Sexual maturity is attained in 18 to 24 months. Life span is variously reported from 20 to 30 years.

Bats are the only mammals that fly and Chiroptera means "hand-wing". The membranes that extend from the sides of the body, legs and tail are extensions of the skin of the back and belly and consist of two layers of skin with no flesh between. The wing membrane is supported by the elongated fingers of the forelimbs. Strong flyers, many roost on offshore islands and travel across water to forage on the mainland. When flying, legs work in unison with the wings, somewhat like swimming through the air. In the flying foxes the first finger as well as the short thumb has a sharp-hooked claw which is used for climbing and clinging to surfaces. Unlike most other warm-blooded animals, bats maintain a warm body temperature only when active. While a bat sleeps, mainly during the day, their body temperature drops to the temperature of the air around them.

There are almost 1000 species of bats in the world, forming the second largest order of mammals (after rodents). About 60 of these fall into the group known as flying foxes. These large fruit-eating bats are found in the forests and swamps of Asia and Africa. Pteropus means "wing-footed" and vampyrus is derived from the word vampire; this species originally was considered a blood-sucking bat. The Malayan Flying Fox is one of the largest bats with a 15.7 inch head/body length and 5 foot wing span. The smallest bat is the Kitti's Hog-nosed Bat (also known as the bumblebee bat) which has a head and body length of 1 inch and a 6 inch wing span. Although bats are sometimes said to have poor vision, i.e. "Blind as a bat," they actually have well-developed eyes comparable to other mammals. Fruit bats have large well-developed eyes and most, including this species, use vision rather than echolocation for navigation during flight. They find their food through smell and sight. Many other bats, especially those who feed on insects, use echolocation to avoid obstacles and find prey while flying in darkness; emitted sounds are above the limit of human hearing. Bats also use sound to express emotion or for communication. When at rest, bats hang head downward. Fruit bats, while scrambling around in trees, may occasionally get into a head-upward position. It is easier for the bat to take flight from the head-down position; it just drops and spreads it wings. Flying foxes play an important role in pollination and seed dispersal for a great variety of plants that are useful for lumber, food, medicine and other products.

The bats can be found in the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children's Zoo.

They are threatened by a combination of loss of habitat and local hunting for food, as well as being killed as a pest by fruit growers. Fruit bats being considered a delicacy on Guam and some of the Northern Marianas led to a vast commercial trade. In 1989 all species of Pteropus were placed on Appendix 2 (threatened) of CITES and at least seven on Appendix 1 (endangered). The commerce still continues either illegally or because of inadequate restrictions. Predators other than man are birds of prey, snakes, and other mammals. Listed as Near Threatened by IUCN.


  1. Fenton, M. Brock. Bats. 1992. Facts on File Inc., New York, NY.
  2. Internet:;
  3. Kunz,Thomas and Jones, Deborah. "Pteropus vampyrus" in Mammalian Species, No. 642. May, 2000. American Society of Mammalogists.
  4. Novak, Ronald. 1999. Walker