Megabats: Wahlberg’s Epauletted Fruit Bat
Wahlberg’s Epauletted Fruit Bat (or Epomophorus Wahlbergi) is a species of megabat (Megachiroptera/Yinpterochiroptera) of the Pteropodidae family. These delightful creatures were found hanging in the palms outside our monitor’s bedroom window. A couple of them had enlarged, rather odd looking cheek pouches. Knowing very little about these bats, Pippa Orpen decided to do some research.
Wahlberg’s Epauletted Fruit Bats can be found in Africa – anywhere south of the Sahara desert and are essential to seed dispersal and pollination. They eat fruit, nectar, pollen and flowers. In Kenya they’re known to pollinate baobab trees when feeding on the nectar of the nocturnal flowers. These flowers only open during the night and are designed to be pollinated by nocturnal animals. We have a variety of fruit trees in our Somkhanda camp – notably the sycamore fig (Ficus Sycamorus). The megabats in this camp will aid in the ficus’ seed dispersal.
During the daylight hours these megabats roost in hollow trees underneath large leaves and beneath the eaves of buildings. They are easily distinguished by their face and head which resembles that of a dog. Air sacks are present on the necks of males and are used in food collection, and may assist in creating a megaphone effect for the calls used by the males to attract females during courtship periods.
Wahlberg’s Epauletted Fruit Bat & His Peculiar Call
THE MALE EPAULETTED FRUIT BAT
The word Epaulette refers to the white fur on the shoulders of the male bats which covers a sunken glandular pouch. When the bat is stressed and vocalises (or during courtship displays) the pouches turn outwards – making the white hair very prominent. During the breeding season the males congregate at traditional sites where they puff up these white shoulder pads, puff out their odd looking cheek pouches, fan their wings and make repeated gong-like calls – all in an attempt to attract passing females. The pouches in the cheeks of the males are inflatable sacs that are believed to enhance their courtship songs. Notice the cheek pouches on the bigger bat in the middle image.
THE FEMALE EPAULETTED FRUIT BAT
The females generally produce a single young although twins have been recorded. The young one is called a pup and will cling to it’s mother’s chest while she forages and feeds. Notice the pup (albeit an older one) under the mother’s wing in the first image. The pup was the only individual that wasn’t looking at me while taking photographs. The rest were all gazing down at me. Most species of megabats locate their meals by sight, so they have large eyes and keen eyesight. Their closest relatives the Microbats (Microchiroptera/Yangochiroptera) are the insect eaters which primarily use echolocation to navigate and locate their meals.
Text & Photos by Pippa Orpen