Pteropus scapulatuslittle red flying fox

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Geographic Range

Little red flying foxes (Pteropus scapulatus) are primarily found in Australia and have the largest distribution of any other member of the genus Pteropus within Australia. Occasionally, these bats have been seen as far away as Papua New Guinea. There has also been one sighting of an individual in New Zealand. Although little red flying foxes occur throughout Australia, they are particularly abundant in northern Australia. (Daniel, 1975; Hall, 1987; Vardon, et al., 1997; Waithman, 1979)

Habitat

Little red flying foxes occur throughout coastal regions as well as arid landscapes of inland Australia. Limited knowledge from recent studies suggests that these bats often congregate at camps in riparian habitat, such as fresh/saltwater mangroves, bamboo, and closed forests. Selection of such congregation sites may be determined by seasonal variation, as well as by other factors; such as human hunting, natural catastrophe regimes, and climatic fluctuations. (Sinclair, et al., 1996; Tidemann, et al., 1999; Webb and Tidemann, 1999)

Physical Description

Little red flying foxes are medium-sized bats. The average wingspan of P. scapulatus males varies from .9 to 1.2 m. Weights of these males can can reach 550 g. There is no relevant literature available pertaining to body length and basal metabolic rate of P. scapulatus. However the body length of black flying foxes (Pteropus alecto) is known to range from 240 to 260 mm.

After winter solstice, the testicular size and body weight of males increase. (McGuckin and Blackshaw, 1991; O’Brien, 1993; Sinclair, et al., 1996)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    550 g (high) g
    oz
  • Range wingspan
    0.9 to 1.2 mm
    0.04 to 0.05 in
  • Average wingspan
    1.0 mm
    0.04 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    1.353 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Females and males congregate in large camps, especially during the 2-month mating season and during the 5 months of lactation. As many as 1 million individuals are known to congregate at a single camp.

Studies suggest that most females are associated with males in harem groups during the mating season. After mating, females establish small groups consisting exclusively of females. These small female groups are maintained until young are born. (Nelson, 1965; Nowak, 1999)

The breeding season of P. scapulatus occurs between the Australian spring months of November and December. It and appears to be regulated by circannual endogenous rhythms. Young are born 5 months later in April to May. Many species in the genus Pteropus undergo delayed implantation, so it is possible that the actual time of development is not as long as the gestation period indicates. Lactation in this genus lasts between 3 and 6 months, although data are not available on its duration for P. scapulatus. Sexual maturity is typically reached between 18 months and 2 years of age. (Nowak, 1999; O’Brien and Nankervis, 1994; O’Brien, 1993; O’Brien, 1996)

  • Breeding interval
    These bats breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in November and December.
  • Average number of offspring
    1
  • Average number of offspring
    1
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    4 to 5 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    540 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    540 days
    AnAge

Young bats are not able to fly from birth, and so may be called altricial. In some Pteropus species, the mother carries her young with her for a few months. There are no data on this behavior P. scapulatus. Lactating Pteropus females raise their young close to adult size before they are weaned. Females must contribute close to all of the calcium that is required to the developing skeletal system of the offspring. As a consequence, females often suffer from osteoporosis. Females with osteoporosis have a greater chance of breaking bones necessary for flight. Without the ability to fly, there is a high probability that females with broken limbs will die from starvation.

There are no data available on the role of males in parental care. (Nelson, 2001)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

No information is available on the life span of this species. However, other members of the genus are reported to have lived as long as 30 years in captivity. As flying mammals typically have lifespans longer than expected based solely upon their body size, it is likely that P. scapulatus has a similarly long lifespan. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    15.8 years
    AnAge

Behavior

The distribution of little red flying foxes extends throughout an area of 3.5 million km2. This range includes both temperate and tropical regions. During the warmer months of October to April, P. scapulatus primarily inhabits the temperate regions at the southern extent of its range. (Radcliff, 1931; Sinclair, et al., 1996)

Home Range

No information is available pertaining to the home range of this species.

Communication and Perception

Species within Pteropus are frugivores and do not echolocate. No information on the communication of P. scapulatus is available; however, generally Pteropus species are known to communicate with loud vocalizations. While roosting, vocalizations are emitted by adults and juveniles at frequencies that are audible to the human ear. Communication by such vocalizations occurs during agonistic behaviors, escaping agonistic behaviors, and by females when males attempt to copulate with them. Vocalizations by juveniles help mothers identify their young after foraging.

In addition to vocal communication, tactile communication is important between mates and between mothers and their offspring.

Chemical communication is important in some species of Pteropus, especially in helping males mark territories during breeding season. Although this behavior has not been reported for this species, it is possible that similar scent cues are used.

The role of visual signals, such as body postures, has not been investigated. (Nowak, 1999)

Food Habits

Little red flying foxes are known to primarily feed on blossoms of eucalyptus trees. However, it is currently uncertain what the importance of eucalyptus foliage is in their diet. It has been suggested that Pteropus species obtain high amounts of calcium from calcium-rich vegetation such as eucalyptus. There is some suggestion that P. scapulatus follows the foraging resources of eucalyptus blooms throughout the landscape. No other information pertaining to the foraging habits of little red flying foxes is currently available. (Barclay, 2002; Funakoshi, et al., 1993; Marshall, 1985; Nelson, 1965; Radcliff, 1931; Richards, 1995; Sinclair, et al., 1996; Vardon, et al., 1997)

  • Plant Foods
  • fruit
  • nectar
  • flowers

Predation

Limited information is available on the predators of Pteropus species. In many states throughout Australia, P. scapulatus is considered a pest, and is subject to large-scale hunting and poisoning by humans. (Nowak, 1999; Nowak, 1999; Nowak, 1999)

Ecosystem Roles

Little red flying foxes are important for the pollination and seed dispersal of native flora within Australia. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
  • pollinates

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Pteropus scapulatus contributes to the pollination of plants that are important for humans, including trees used for lumber, food, and medicine. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pollinates crops

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

In regions of fruit production, this species is considered a pest because of its tendency to feed upon agricultural crops. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Pteropus scapulatus is considered common, and is legally protected in Australia. This species does not qualify for endangered, threatened, or vulnerable status and is considered a taxon of least concern. (Nowak, 1999; Sinclair, et al., 1996)

Contributors

Jeremie Marko (author), Humboldt State University, Brian Arbogast (editor, instructor), Humboldt State University.

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

colonial

used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

delayed implantation

in mammals, a condition in which a fertilized egg reaches the uterus but delays its implantation in the uterine lining, sometimes for several months.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Barclay, R. 2002. Do plants pollinated by flying fox bats (Megachiroptera) provide and extra calcium reward in their nectar?. Biotropica, 34/1: 168-171.

Christesen, L., J. Nelson. 2000. Vocal communication in the Grey-Headed Flying-fox Pteropus poliocephalus . Australian Zoologist, 31/3: 447-457.

Daniel, J. 1975. First record of an Australian fruit bat (Megachiroptera: Pteropodidae) reaching New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Zoology, 2: 227-231.

Funakoshi, K., H. Watanabe, T. Kunisaki. 1993. Feeding ecology of the northern Ryuku fruit bat, Pteropus dasymallus dasymallus, in a warm-temperate region. Journal of Zoology London, 230: 221-230.

Hall, S. 1987. Identification, distribution and taxonomy of Australian flying foxes (Chiroptera: Pteropodidae). Aust. Mamm, 10: 75-79.

Marshall, G. 1985. Old World phytophagus bats (Megachiroptera) and their food plants: a survey. Zool. J. Linn, 83: 351-369.

McGuckin, A., W. Blackshaw. 1991. Seasonal changes in testicular size, plasma testosterone concentration and body weight in captive flying foxes (Pteropus poliocephalus and Pteropus scapulatus). Journal of Reproduction and Fertility, 92: 339-346.

Nelson, E. 1965. Movements of Australian flying foxes. Aust. J. Zool, 13: 53-75.

Nelson, S. 2001. Nutritional landscape ecology of Pteropus tonganus in American Samoa. Bat Research News, 42/4: 172.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore, Maryland U.S.A.: John Hopkins University Press.

O’Brien, M. 1996. Comparative Morphology of the Pituary Gland in Australian Flying Foxes (Megachiroptera: Genus Pteropus). Journal of Reproduction and Fertility, 244(1): 70-77.

O’Brien, M. 1993. Seasonal reproduction in flying foxes, reviewed in the context of other tropical mammals. Journal of Reproduction and Fertility, 5: 499-521.

O’Brien, M., F. Nankervis. 1994. Coital behavior of male Pteropus scapulatus (little red flying foxes) in captivity. Physiological and Behavior, 56: 471-477.

Radcliff, N. 1931. The flying fox (Pteropus) in Australia. CSIR Bull, 53: 1-81.

Richards, C. 1995. A review of ecological interactions of fruit bats in Australian ecosystems. Symp. Zool. Soc. of Lond, 67: 79-92.

Sinclair, E., N. Webb, C. Tideman. 1996. Variation in the little red flying-fox, Pteropus scapulatus (Chiroptera: Pteropodidae): implications for management. Biiol. Conser., 76: 45-50.

Tidemann, C., M. Vardon, A. Loughland, P. Brocklehurst. 1999. Dry season camps of flying foxes (Pteropus spp.) in Kakadu world heritage area, north Australia. Journal of Zoology London, 247: 155-163.

Vardon, M., B. Simpson, D. Sherwell, C. Tidemann. 1997. Flying-foxes and tourists: a conservation dilemma in the Northern Territory. Aust. Zool, 30: 310-315.

Waithman, J. 1979. A report on a collection of mammals from southwest Papua, 1972- 1973. Aust. Zool, 20: 213-326.

Webb, N., C. Tidemann. 1999. Hybridization between black (Pteropus alecto) and grey-headed (P. poliocephalus) flying-foxes (Megachiroptera: Pteropodidae). Aust. Mamm, 18: 19-26.