Published: April 1986

Africa's Flying Foxes

Flying Foxes

Gentle Fliers of the African Night

Bat expert Merlin D. Tuttle extolls the beneficial role of endangered flying fox bats.

Article and photographs by Merlin D. Tuttle

This article was originally published in the April 1986 National Geographic.

Hanging in a tree beside a streetlamp in a night-darkened town on Lake Victoria in East Africa, an epauleted bat fluffed his white shoulder fur, puffed out his cheek pouches, fanned his wings, and gave voice to the repeated gonglike calls that would attract a mate.

This handsome little mammal with a 50-centimeter (20-inch) wingspan had already attracted me; for weeks I had been trying to photograph an epauleted bat vocalizing in full courting display. Now I had stumbled onto just such a remarkable demonstration.

Unlike many bats, the epauleted species lack the ability to echolocate. Females apparently need light to see the males' comehither performance. Here on the main street of Kisumu, Kenya, male bat "townies" guarded lighted streetlamps that allowed them to practice their amorous allurements all night long.

Continue »
email a friend iconprinter friendly icon   |