Fruit bats: the winged ‘conservationists’ reforesting parts of Africa

Fruit bats: the winged ‘conservationists’ reforesting parts of Africa

Straw-coloured fruit bats exist throughout most of the African continent. This large fruit bat is one of, if not the most numerous fruit-eating animal (called frugivores) in Africa. They live in colonies of thousands to millions of individuals.

Fruit bats sleep during the day, hanging upside down in the crowns of old trees, and become active at sunset when they set off in search of food – specifically nectar and fruit.

With their wingspan of up to 80cm, they are able to cover vast distances. When the colonies are very large and competition for food is stiff, they can fly up to 95km to suitable food trees and only return to their roosts the following morning. They defecate the seeds of the fruit they eat over an unusually long time period, even during flight. They can thus disperse seeds across huge areas as they go.

The seeds transported in this way can end up far from the parent plant, and in areas that are good for germination and establishment. The fact that these gigantic colonies seasonally migrate across Africa, following the rain and upcoming fruit, help disperse seeds of seasonal fruit and in places with only a few local frugivores.

The fruit bats therefore contribute to the species and genetic diversity of forests.

Lead Image: A fruit bat.

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