Rodrigues Fruit Bat

Rodrigues Fruit Bat

[ Pteropus rodricensis ]

Quick Facts

BODY LENGTH: 6 to 8 inches
WINGSPAN: 2.5 to 3 feet
WILD DIET: fruit juice, pollen, and nectar
ZOO DIET: mixture of chopped fruit and vegetables, high protein/high fiber dry monkey chow with vitamins and minerals added
DISTRIBUTION: Island of Rodrigues in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Madagascar
HABITAT: rainforest trees
Bats by the Thousands

Years ago, at dusk each day, Rodrigues fruit bats dominated the sky over the island of Mauritus in the Indian Ocean, off the west coast of Africa. Thousands of these big bats could be seen against the setting sun, flying from their roosting sites to feed in fruit trees. But today, Rodrigues fruit bats no longer fly over Mauritius.

Change is not always good
Like most island species, Rodrigues fruit bats are susceptible to drastic changes in their environment. Mauritius was heavily deforested during the last century, which reduced the numbers of roosting and feeding sites. Between 1955 and 1968 in particular, much of the bats habitat was destroyed by “clearfelling,” a logging method that leaves no plant life standing. The bats became extinct on Mauritius as a result.

On the other island where the bats were once common, Rodrigues Island, cyclones in 1968 and 1972 contributed to the overall population decline. Today, only about 1,000 Rodrigues fruit bats survive on Rodgrigues Island. This is the only place they live in the wild.

Size is relative
Rodrigues fruit bats are huge compared to bats in Illinois. But with a wingspan of two and a half feet, they are only medium-sized when it comes to fruit bats, some of which measure more than five feet from wing tip to wing tip! Their fur (did you know bats have fur?) is variable in color, from black to silver, yellow, orange, and red. Their wings are actually thin skin stretched between the fingers and thumb of each hand. Their fingers are very long, and act as wing supports.

Appearances may be deceiving
Fruit bats are sometimes called flying foxes because of their long canine-like snout, pointed ears, and dog-like eyes. But unlike the carnivores they may resemble, fruit bats eat--you guessed it--fruit! They eat mainly as the sun goes down. First a few individuals will flap away from the roost tree. Soon the whole colony takes to the wing. Their destination is always the same, fruit trees. They drink the juice of fruit, which they obtain by putting fruit pieces in their mouth and squeezing it out. Then they spit the fruit pulp out.

After several hours of eating and digesting at the feeding site, the colony returns to the roosting site, sometimes swooping down for a drink of seawater along the way. The seawater contains minerals not present in their food.

Poop and pollen
Fruit bats are important to the health of forests and swamps where they live. As they fly back and forth between roosting and feeding sites, they “poop out” the seeds from the fruit they have eaten. This rain of seeds from the sky helps replenish the forest, and the poop that comes with it is a good fertilizer. Fruit bats are also pollinators because they move from tree to tree so often, picking up pollen along the way. Some species of trees are pollinated only by fruit bats.

Rodrigues fruit bats at Brookfield Zoo
Australia House is home to the zoo’s colony of Rodrigues fruit bats. Brookfield Zoo is a leader in Rodgrigues fruit bat conservation, participating in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for these bats. SSPs are cooperative breeding programs between zoos that aim to increase the captive populations of endangered species.

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society