The name of this fruit bat is the longest bit of information I could find. I couldn’t even uncover who Ratanaworabhan is, or indeed Niphan, who seems to be the other “owner” of this mammal and possibly the same person. In a desperate bid for more detail I resorted to typing Vietnamese text into Google Translate. Manually. So I hope you appreciate the fruits of my labour!
Ratanaworabhan’s fruit bat is a cool-sounding “megabat” or “old world fruit bat”, with large forward-facing eyes that make it look like it just caught itself in a mirror, so it’s either horrified or surprised it was captured on film anywhere. Like most fruit bats, it uses colour vision rather than sonar to avoid hitting trees and obstacles, so there’s a reason for its plum-like eyeballs. This rules out most cave-dwelling antics where light is poor, although it has been spotted in Tham Tab Tao, a sacred cave in Thailand with a reclining Buddha statue. It’s also the largest of the four Indo-Malayan megabats.
Speaking of which, this “northern tailless fruit bat” has been understandably confused with the tailless and the shortnosed fruit bat, and it has a similar, if softer call to the latter while being less noisy generally when trapped in a net. Why trapped in a net? Well unfortunately, being a fruit bat, it’s classed as category V in the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, meaning the exact opposite of protection – it can be captured and killed as vermin. This is despite a study by Natarajan Singaravelan et al. and local observations by DownToEarth.org showing that only a couple of species cause havoc in commercial orchards, and Ratanarowabhan’s fruit bat most certainly isn’t one of them. That’s assuming that it eats fruit at all, because its diet is something else we haven’t confirmed yet.
It’s not disease-riddled either. Only about 0.5% of bats carry rabies, for instance, and although a south Vietnam study showed that Ratanaworabhan’s fruit bat is prone to charming bartonella bacteria, with a 50% infection rate, there were no records of human cases in the region, despite the locals’ proximity to bat guano and eating bat meat.
Regardless, it’s still (unfairly) labelled a flying rat by many, and since it only pops out one or two pups a year, it’s more vulnerable to extinction. The lack of studies gives it a similar problem to the jaguarundi, in that we’re not sure how many there are – while it’s listed as Least Concern at the moment, it’s considered rare in some areas like Thailand, and threatened by deforestation.
As a fruit bat, it plays a vital part in the local ecosystem by pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds, so unless we discover it’s been feasting on orphan flesh all these years, it deserves more sympathy and protection than it’s getting. And unless attitudes change, it will suck to be a bat, even if it doesn’t drink blood.
Latin: Megaerops niphanae
What? A fruit bat
Where? From northern India, Bangladesh and Bhutan to Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia
How big? Forearm length can vary from 52-63 mm / 2-2.5 ”
Endangered? It’s currently Least Concern according to the IUCN Red List, but there’s not a lot of information available.
Probable motto: Fine, don’t bother studying me, then I can hide amongst the other bats. That couldn’t possibly backfire.
They sound interesting. Do they need my help at all?
If you want to give these fruit-loving flappers some love, check out Bat Conservation International here.
The Rainforest Alliance also has campaigns based in Asia here.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing
“Bat Tracks“. 2015. Down To Earth.org.
Beltz, Lisa A. 2018. “Bats and Human Health. Ebola, SARS, Rabies and Beyond“. Wiley Blackwell.
Duff, Andrew, and Lawson, Ann. 2004. Mammals of the World: A Checklist. Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-10398-0.
Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. No date. “Old World Fruit Bat“. Britannica.com.
Ellis, Martin. 2017. The Caves of Northern Thailand. Volume 2. Published by author.
Mandal, Ajoy Kumal et al., 1993. “Records of Megaerops niphanae Yenbutra & Felten 1983 (Mammalia: Chiroptera: Pteropodidae), Hipposideros lankadiva Kelaart, 1850 and Hipposideros armiger armiger (Hodgson, 1835) (Chiroptera Rhinolophidae) from Manipur, India, with taxonomic notes“. Records of the Zoological Survey of India 93(3-4): 355-359.
Matveev, Vitaliy A. 2005. “Checklist of Cambodian bats (Chiroptera) with new records and remarks on taxonomy“. Russian Journal of Theriology 4(1):43-62.
“Megabats“. No date. BBC Nature.
“Megaerops niphanae“. No date. The Chiropteran Library of South Asia.
“Megaerops Niphanae“. No date. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Nguyen Truong Son, and Vu Dinh Thong. 2006. “Wildlife at Risk“. No date. [Vietnamese.]
Nguyen Truong Son, and Vu Dinh Thong. No date. “Recent bat surveys in Chu Mom Ray National Park (Kon Tum Province) and Song Thanh Nature Reserve (Quang Nam Province)“.
“Old World Fruit Bats II (Other Genera)“. No date. Encyclopedia.com.
Singaravelan, Natarajan, et al. 2009. “Do fruit bats deserve to be listed as vermin in the Indian Wildlife (Protection) & amended acts? A critical review“. Oryx 43(4): 608-613.
Featured image credit: © Charles Francis. “Megaerops niphanae, taken in Laos in April 1996. Female with young“. Many thanks to the Mammal Images Library of the American Society of Mammalogists too!