True Facts About The Fruit Bat

5 July 2014 by GrrlScientist, posted in Biology, Video

SUMMARY: This amusing video shares a few facts about the amazing megabats -- the largest flying mammals alive in the world today.

Orphaned baby fruit bats. Screen capture.

Once again, it's caturday, so let's watch some animals doing stuff!

Today's animals are megachiropterans, or "big winged" bats -- more commonly known as megabats or fruit bats. Unlike the bats that pop into most people's minds when they hear the word, the megabats are frugivorous (fruit-eaters) or nectarivorous (nectar-eaters) that don't use echolocation to find their food sources. They are important pollinators or seed dispersers, especially on remote oceanic islands. Most species of megabats locate their meals by sight, so they have large eyes, keen eyesight. At least some megabat species are migratory. True to their name, "megabat", this group include the largest flying mammals alive today, with wingspans of 1.5 metres (5 feet).

There are more than 900 species of bats on Earth, which makes the Chiropterans more species-rich than any other mammalian group, except rodents. They inhabit nearly every habitat available, except for the polar extremes. Tragically, due to habitat destruction and other forms of human exploitation, particularly hunting, most megabats are in danger of extinction. (Microbats have their own set of partially overlapping problems that are threatening their existence.)

Whilst taking university zoology courses, I learned about the controversy that the two groups of bats, the megabats and the microbats (microchiropterans) might be distinct, with the megachiropterans being more closely allied in deep time with primates than to microchirpoterans. This hypothesis was based upon strong similarities in megabat and primate visual systems (doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.1989.0102). However, fossil studies (doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature06549) and more recent molecular phylogenetic analyses (doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msi180) have revealed that megabats and microbats really are each other's closest relatives.

This amusing video shares some information about the megachiropterans, specifically, the flying foxes:

Sources:

Simmons N.B., Jörg Habersetzer & Gregg F. Gunnell (2008). Primitive Early Eocene bat from Wyoming and the evolution of flight and echolocation, Nature, 451 (7180) 818-821. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature06549 [$]

Pettigrew J.D., S. K. Robson, L. S. Hall, K. I. McAnally & H. M. Cooper (1989). Phylogenetic Relations Between Microbats, Megabats and Primates (Mammalia: Chiroptera and Primates), Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 325 (1229) 489-559. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.1989.0102 [OA]

Eick G.N. (2005). A Nuclear DNA Phylogenetic Perspective on the Evolution of Echolocation and Historical Biogeography of Extant Bats (Chiroptera), Molecular Biology and Evolution, 22 (9) 1869-1886. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msi180

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NOTE: this piece is slightly modified from the original, written by GrrlScientist and published on The Guardian.

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Grrlscientist can be found on on her eponymous Guardian blog, and she sometimes lurks on social media; facebook, G+, LinkedIn, Pinterest. She's quite active on twitter: @GrrlScientist

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