Pemba flying foxes: one of the world's largest fruit bats

Pemba flying foxes: one of the world's largest fruit bats

Our “Species of the Week” series highlights the flagship species of each of the 844 unique ecoregions contained within Earth’s bioregions.

One-quarter of the world’s mammals are bats, and they range everywhere on the planet except the arctic regions. Off the coast of East Africa, on the tropical island of Pemba, is one specific species of bat known for its massive size, charming face, and comeback story, the Pemba flying fox.

With a wingspan up to 5 feet 3 inches, the Pemba flying fox is part of the genus of megabats, the world's largest bats. Their tawny fur that glistens orange in the sun, black ears, and face that resembles a fox is where they derive their name.

Pemba flying foxes are the flagship species of the Northern Swahili Coastal Forests ecoregion, located in the East African Coastal Forests bioregion (AT07). 

The Pemba flying fox is only found on their namesakes’ island, and they live in the forest trees and among mangroves in large groups. Colonies of the Pemba flying fox roost during the day and emerge at dusk to forage for fruit with their most popular meals consisting of figs and mangoes.

Pemba flying foxes are essential pollinators to their tropical habitat. They consume fruit, leaves, flowers, and nectar, and the seeds that go through their system and the pollen that sticks to their fur helps to disperse plant life across the island.

Contrary to most bat species, Pemba flying foxes have excellent eyesight. Their eyes are large and positioned on the front of their heads, giving them binocular vision. Rather than for the use of echolocation, the chirps of all flying fox species are thought to be for each other as they are highly social.

Pemba flying foxes also rely heavily on their sense of smell. With large olfactory bulbs to process scents, they smell to locate food, find their young, and for mating. Offspring are born between June and August and become independent several months later.

In 1989, only a few individual bats in this species were left in the wild due to the popularity of the shotgun. Pemba flying foxes were considered a local delicacy, and previous hunting methods were more sustainable.

Today, thanks to conservation efforts, their numbers have soared, with an astounding 22,000 bats recorded in 2008 and island polls showing nearly 100% of locals expressing support for their continued conservation.

This remarkable recovery is due to a collaboration with Tanzania’s Department of Forestry and the conservation organization Fauna & Flora International (FFI), who created protected habitats and raised awareness.

Interested in learning more about the bioregions of Afrotropics? Use One Earth's interactive Navigator to explore bioregions around the world.

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