Nature

Here’s what you need to know about that ‘human-sized’ bat going viral

While bats live nearly all over the world, only some parts of our planet are blessed with flying foxes. So it’s no wonder that a recent photo of a huge fruit bat in the Philippines has gone viral on social media.

“Remember when I told y’all about the Philippines having human-sized bats? Yeah, this was what I was talking about,” Twitter user AlexJoestar622 wrote in late June.

Like many viral things, the photo they tweeted actually originated a couple of years ago on Reddit, when the Filipino user sakundes allegedly encountered one of these beautiful animals in their backyard.

cqd77yy607f11(sakundes/Reddit)

The perspective in this particular shot makes the bat seem far larger than it is – flying foxes are most certainly not human-sized. While the largest species do reach wingspans of 1.7 metres (5.5 ft), their bodies are quite small, barely extending 30 centimetres in length (11.8 inches).

There’s no doubt the bat is real, though. The Reddit user even posted another photo from a different angle of the bat yawning as it was woken up from its daytime slumber; flying foxes are typically nocturnal or crepuscular.

wUgqAru(sakundes/Reddit)

Various captions on the internet have described it as the giant golden-crowned flying fox (Acerodon jubatus), which seems dubious as it doesn’t look like the bat is sporting the characteristic tuft of yellow fur on top of its head.

The golden-crowned flying fox is one of the largest bat species in the world, though, belonging to the family of megabats that are found in parts of Africa, India, Asia, and Oceania.

It’s possible the sleepy creature was actually a large flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus), a similarly impressive megabat characterised by its long, pointed ears and fox-like face and head. In the Philippines, nearly all flying foxes are threatened species due to habitat loss and being hunted as a human food source.

Worldwide distribution of PteropodidaeRange map of megabats. (Enwebb/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Despite various cultural associations linking bats with vampires, flying foxes are far from being bloodthirsty beasts of the night. As frugivores, these bats will noisily chatter as they feast on figs and other fruit at dusk, and roost in large treetop clumps during the day. They’d rather drink nectar than go for blood.

In fact, out of more than 1,300 bat species found around the world, only three feed on blood; biologically, it’s actually a pretty strange diet. And, unlike their microbat brethren, flying foxes don’t navigate by echolocation, relying on their sense of sight and smell instead.  

While bats – even the adorable and fuzzy ones – do carry a risk of zoonotic disease, they’re also extremely important for the world’s ecosystems, providing pest control, pollination, seed dispersal, and much more. And most of them are pretty cute, too.

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