Everywhere on Earth, there are species unique to specific regions and climates. Social media has made it easier to share photos of these critters far and wide, exposing them to those who may have never seen them before. This was the case when an image of a giant golden-crowned flying fox from the Philippines started garnering retweets on Twitter. Some who shared the image erroneously labeled the vampirish creature as “human-sized,” though chiropterologists (i.e. people who study bats) were quick to point out that flying fox bodies are, on average, under five pounds — or about the size of a toy poodle.
When @AlexJoestar622 innocently posted some images and info about the winged creature, he was surprised the share “kinda blew up” as it took tweeters’ imaginations by storm. As of this writing, the initial post was nearing 300,000 likes and 120,000 retweets and comments. Replies ranged from “cool” to “absolutely not,” as commenters took the opportunity to educate each other about more giant land animals: the harpy eagle, the coconut crab and the shoebill. After @AlHendiify’s post of a kindergartener-sized Philippine eagle, @prograpslady voiced the concern of many: “Oh my god what is even happening in the Philippines?”
Seeing is Believing
As images of the flying fox made the rounds, many animal lovers piped up to defend the menacing-looking critter. Tweeter @catkid123 wrote, “This is normal in the Philippines, Australia and several Asian countries. There is nothing to be afraid of. They are very innocent, and are related to deer and horses. They have a vegetarian diet. If it wasn’t for them, there would be no seeds dispersed to plant fruit trees.” In 2015, Batcon (short for Bat Conservation International) summarized the important role golden-crowned flying foxes play in the Filipino ecosystem, primarily reforestation of the areas where they live. They are also social creatures, who enjoy “having other bat neighbors, as they share their roosts with several flying fox species — most commonly the large flying fox (Pteropus vampyrus).”
In 2017, images of the grey-headed flying fox in Australia caused a similar stir on Facebook. Christened “Roofhanger,” by Avant Gardens, the image was captured by an Australian family who walked out the front door and found the megabat staring them in the face. While many of the more than 7,000 reactions were of the open-mouthed emoji variety, Robin Raver remarked, “If he was hanging at my house there better not be a single mosquito anywhere!” Ara Kramer chimed in, “Flying fox fruit bat! Sweet sky puppies in Australia. Entire colonies have been killed recently due to the extreme summer heat this year. It’s heartbreaking.“
Under Fire and Endangered
Though they may be small in body, the wingspan of the golden-crowned flying fox is the largest of any megabat, reaching almost six feet across. Only prehistoric reptiles can rival the bat’s impressive reach. Comparably, of the animals still among us, the ostrich has a similar sturdy six-foot wingspan, but its wings are just for show, as the bird is flightless. As the golden-crowned flying foxes’ numbers have dwindled dramatically due to deforestation and hunting, conservationists have redoubled their efforts to protect the mammoth flying mammal.
Readers may remember seeing aid appeals in early 2020 from the devastating Australian bushfires that laid waste to much of the megabats’ natural habitats and food sources. According to the BBC, heat stress had already killed multiple baby bats prior to the bushfires. While fundraising campaigns featured cuddly images of rescued bat pups swaddled in soft blankets, the threat to these gentle creatures has them now ranked among the 50 most endangered species in the world.
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