Gambian Epauletted Fruit Bat, Epomophorus gambianus
The Gambian epauletted fruit bat (Epomophorus gambianus) is a species of megabat that can be found in many areas including Benin, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coats, Ethiopia, Liberia, and Senegal, with most areas of its range occurring in Africa. It can reside in many habitats including tropical or subtropical forests, as well as arid or moist savannahs. It will roost in tree hollows, dense foliage, and roots along the banks of rivers either in small groups or alone.
The Gambian epauletted fruit bat can reach an average body length of up to 9.8 inches with an average wingspan of twenty inches in adult males. The fur is typically brown in color, with a small white spot appearing below the ears in both males and females. Males are usually larger than females, and can be distinguished by the glands on the shoulders, which are brighter in color than the rest of the fur, and are only visible when the male is sexually aroused or irritated.
These bats display highly sociable and organized behavior, gathering in groups between six to twenty individuals that roost and travel together. The bats will smell the scent glands of other individuals in order to establish relationships, but is one is denied, many other bats will gather around it in a display of affection. When flying together, the bat that is leading will change positions periodically, but the formation never falters. In another display of organization, males can be found on the edges of the group, guarding vigilantly against threats.
The breeding season of the Gambian epauletted fruit bat occurs between the months of October to November. During this time, males will call out to females, displaying the “epaulettes” located on the neck from which it derives its name, and have multiple breeding partners. After about six months of roosting separately from males, pregnant females typically give birth to one pup.
Pups of this species mature rapidly, while some areas of its body do not grow much at all. The thumbs and hind feet are nearly at adult size at birth, but the forearms that support the wings must have time to develop. The teeth are not developed at birth, but adult teeth will begin to grow when the pup learns to fly at around five weeks of age, allowing it to start its diet of fruit. These bats live for an average of twenty-one years, an unusually long lifespan for small mammals.
The diet of the Gambian epauletted fruit bat consists strictly of fruit, and this makes it difficult for some populations living in arid regions. Sometime the bats located in these areas will fly as far as a few hundred miles to find food. Figs are an important source of food for the bats, although they are not high in nutrients, and each night the small groups of bats will travel to many trees in order to gather enough for one meal. Pups can be seen latched onto the mother’s belly as she searches for food.
The Gambian epauletted fruit bat is threatened by habitat loss caused by human actions and pesticide exposure. It can contract rabies, but this is not a major threat. It has taken to foraging through fruit crops because humans have moved into its natural habitat for agricultural purposes. It is a known seed disperser of the fruits it eats, spreading the seeds as the fruit is taken back to the roost. The Gambian epauletted fruit bat appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern”.
Image Caption: Gambian Epauletted Fruit Bat, Epomophorus gambianus Banjul (Gambia), 25 December 2007. Credit: José M. Gómez/Wikipedia (CC BY 3.0)