Egyptian fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus)

Also known as: Egyptian rousette
Synonyms: Pteropus aegyptiacus, Pteropus egyptiacus, Rousettus egyptiacus
GenusRousettus (1)
SizeTotal length: 11 - 19 cm (2)
Tail length: 0.6 - 2.5 cm (2)
Forearm length: 8 - 10 cm (2)
Wingspan: up to 60 cm (2)
Weightca. 81 - 171 g (2) (3)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Originally described from a specimen from the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt (4), the Egyptian fruit bat is a relatively large, robust bat with a short tail, a fox-like face, noticeably large eyes, and dark, rounded, naked ears (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). The fine, sleek fur varies in colour from greyish-brown to dark brown, lighter on the belly, and often with a pale yellow or orange collar around the neck (2) (4) (5) (7). The wings have rounded tips and are dark brown in colour, becoming lighter brown in more northerly parts of the range, and the wing membrane itself attaches to the first toe of the foot. The fur, which is longer on the forehead and upper parts of the body, extends onto the tops of the forearms and legs, and slightly onto the wing membrane (2) (4). The male Egyptian fruit bat is substantially larger than the female (3) (7). Up to six subspecies are recognised (1) (2) (4) (6).

The Egyptian fruit bat has a wide but rather patchy distribution across sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, the Mediterranean, Arabian Peninsula and Middle East, and into southwest Asia (1) (2) (3) (4) (5). Rousettus aegyptiacus aegyptiacus is found in Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Cyprus; R. a. arabicus in eastern Ethiopia, Iran, southern Arabia and Pakistan; R. a. leachi across parts of northern, eastern and southern Africa; and R. a. unicolor from Senegal and Gambia, east to Cameroon and south to Angola (1) (6). R. a. princeps is endemic to Principe Island in the Gulf of Guinea, and R. a. tomensis to the island of São Tomé (1). The species may migrate in parts of its range (1) (2) (3) (4).

The Egyptian fruit bat inhabits a variety of habitats, from arid to tropical areas (1) (2), but is reliant on an adequate supply of fruit trees and on suitable roosting sites (1) (4) (8). Unlike most other fruit bats, the Egyptian fruit bat roosts in caves, as well as similar man-made structures, such as underground irrigation tunnels, ruins, tombs, mines and military bunkers (1) (2) (6). The species has been recorded from elevations of up to 4,000 metres (1).

Rousettus species form the largest colonies of any fruit bats (9), with those of the Egyptian fruit bat often numbering up to several thousand individuals, or even up to 50,000 in some cases (1) (2) (3). The bats crowd close together in the roost, chattering noisily, and fights often break out (2) (3) (4) (5). Rousettus species have excellent vision and smell, and, uniquely among fruit bats, also use a rudimentary form of echolocation, producing tongue clicks which are audible to humans (2) (3) (6) (9). The Egyptian fruit bat feeds on a variety of soft fruits, as well as flowers, pollen and some leaves (1) (2) (6) (7) (10). Fruit can be temporarily stored in cheek pouches (4), or taken to nearby trees to consume (8), and, like other fruit bats, the Egyptian fruit bat is likely to be an important plant pollinator and seed disperser (3) (9).

The Egyptian fruit bat typically has two breeding cycles each year, although most females breed in only one, the timing depending on the location (2) (3) (6). During the breeding season, the females form nursery colonies with the young, while males tend to form separate groups (2) (4). The female Egyptian fruit bat gives birth to a single young, or occasionally twins, after a gestation period of around four months (2) (3) (6), the young bat being born with folded ears and closed eyes, and clinging to the female for the first few weeks. The eyes open and ears erect at about ten days, and after the first six weeks the infant is left at the roost while the female forages, taking its first flight when about 63 to 70 days old (2) (3) (4). The male Egyptian fruit bat usually reaches sexual maturity at 14 to 18 months, and the female at 15 to 16 months, although some females start to breed from 7 to 8 months (3) (6). Lifespan in captivity may be up to 25 years (2).

Although still abundant and widespread (1), the Egyptian fruit bat faces a number of threats. The species is considered a pest by many fruit farmers, despite research suggesting that only small amounts of the diet consist of commercially grown fruits (10), and that commercial fruit is usually picked before it is ripe, and so is unattractive to bats (11). Despite this, cave roosts are often fumigated or destroyed, or the bats poisoned (1) (5) (6) (7) (11). The Egyptian fruit bat is also hunted for food in parts of Africa (1), and is shot in some areas (6) (11). Further conflict with humans is caused when bat droppings accumulate on the walls of buildings (5) (6). Other threats to this species include deforestation, and pressure from increasing tourism to caves (6). Subspecies R. a. arabicus is now considered rare (3) (6).

The Egyptian fruit bat occurs in a number of protected areas (1), such as Carmel Nature Reserve in Israel, Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, and Kruger National Park in South Africa, amongst others (6). It is also protected under a range of international legislation (12) (13). Specific conservation measures recommended for the Egyptian fruit bat include enforcement of protection, in particular preventing the fumigation of caves, as well as education campaigns (1) (6). Where this bat is persecuted, it should be established whether or not the species is responsible for substantial damage to fruit or trees, and alternative control measures should be provided if appropriate (6) (10). For example, fruit crops can be netted, or ‘sonic scarers’ used to deter bats from the crop (10). With effective protection of the species and its habitat, and a control on illegal culling, it is hoped that there will be a more secure future for this large, charismatic bat (11).

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  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)