Originally described from an individual which was in Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza, the Egyptian fruit bat is a comparatively large, robust bat that has a fox-like face with noticeably large eyes, dark, rounded, naked ears and a short tail. Its fine sleek fur ranges in color from dark brown to grayish-brown, lighter on its belly, often with an orange or pale yellow collar around its neck. It is sometimes called a flying fox, due to its appearance. It has a very long tongue which coils around its rib cage when it isn’t feeding.
The Egyptian fruit bat is scattered across North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, the Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East, and as far as southwest Asia. These animals may migrate in some parts of its range. They inhabit a range of habitats, from tropical to arid areas, relying on a sufficient supply of fruit trees and suitable sites for roosting. This bat roosts in caves, unlike other fruit bats, as well as man-made structures that are similar, such as ruins, tombs, underground irrigation tunnels, mines and military bunkers.
Egyptian fruit bats live in groups that range from 20 to 40 individuals to huge colonies of 9,000. The colonies prefer roosting during the day in dark environments that are slightly humid, such as ruins and caves, though small colonies are seen roosting in trees. In the breeding season, males form bachelor groups while the females are in separate maternity colonies. These bats roost close together to reduce the effect of temperature fluctuations. This close contact enables communication with one another throughout the day when roosting. An Egyptian fruit bat is nocturnal and more active in the late afternoon and night, when there is more frequent grooming. Individuals leave the roost around sunset each evening to go and forage, returning before sunrise.
Egyptian fruit bats may exhibit both polygynandrous (promiscuous - both males and females breed with multiple mates) or polygynous (one male mates with multiple females) mating systems. Breeding typically occurs between April and August and again from October to February. A single pup is raised, though sometimes twins are born. Gestation is for about 3.5 to 4 months, synchronized births occurring in the breeding colonies. The pups are weaned between 6 to 10 weeks old and there is no difference between the genders as regards their growth. Young reach their full adult size and weight around the age of 9 months, and at about this time they become independent of their mothers. On average maturity is reached at 15 months, though females can be mature as soon as 5 to 7 months.
Although still widespread and abundant, Egyptian fruit bats face several threats. They are considered pests by many fruit farmers, with cave roosts often being destroyed or fumigated, or the bats poisoned. They are hunted as a food source in some parts of Africa, while being shot in other areas. People are further distressed by bat droppings accumulating on buildings’ walls. Other threats include deforestation and increasing tourism in caves.
According to IUCN, Egyptian fruit bat is broadly distributed and abundant but no overall population estimate is available. According to the IUCN Red List, specific populations have been estimated in these areas: up to 40,000 to 50,000 animals in Africa, with colonies in South-west Asia typically numbering 50 to 500, although as many as 3,000 were observed in a cave in Jordan. In Turkey the population is estimated at 5,000 to 10,000 animals, where the population may be decreasing as a result of control measures in caves. A single locality only is known in Syria of 1,000 to 2,000 individuals. Overall, Egyptian fruit bats’ numbers remain stable and they are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.
Egyptian fruit bats pollinate many trees that flower nocturnally throughout paleotropical forests. As frugivores, the bats pollinate fruit tree flowers and assist also as the main agent for seed dispersal on behalf of many tree species.