The Indian flying fox is so called due to its unique, fox-like appearance: reddish-brown coat, characteristically long snout as well as large eyes. And indeed, this animal resembles a little fox with wings. An observer would mistake this bat for a fox, if not its leathery wing and the habit of sleeping in an upside down position. The animal exhibits small ears. Instead of using echolocation, this flying fox perceives its environment through well-developed senses of vision and smell, helping the animal to detect food. Like all other bats, the Indian flying fox has claws, found on the second finger of each wing and used for grasping fruits and other objects.
These bats are endemic to South Central Asia, found from Pakistan and China to the Maldive Islands. Within this territory, they live in tropical forests and swamps. The Indian flying fox tend to occur near water bodies and roost among banyan, tamarind and fig trees.
The Indian flying foxes are highly social creatures, forming large roosts of several hundred animals. A single group usually occupies one tree. These bats live in a 'vertical', male-dominated hierarchy system, where higher-ranked individuals occupy higher spots of the tree, while lower-ranked individuals remain on lower spots. Males of a group are responsible for protecting their roost and particularly, females, from outsiders. The Indian flying foxes are nocturnal animals. When sleeping, they hang by their feet in an upside down position, wrapping their wings around themselves. At sunset, they wake up and leave the tree to forage. They spend their nighttime hours looking for food, feeding, digesting their meal, resting as well as socializing and moving around the tree. In order to maintain suitable body temperature, these bats fan themselves with their wings.
This species is polygynandrous (promiscuous), with both males and females breeding with multiple mates. Males usually defend females of their roost from males, coming from the outside. These bats are seasonal breeders. The mating season takes place between July and October. Gestation period lasts for 140 - 150 days, yielding 1 - 2 babies, generally in February-May. The newborn bats are carried by their mother until 3 weeks old, after which the babies begin hanging by their feet independently, although the mother will continue to carry them to the feeding sites every night. The babies are cared for only by their mother. At around 11 weeks old, they are able to fly. Weaning occurs within 5 months after births, and the age of reproductive maturity is 1.5 years old.
The Indian flying foxes are not currently threatened with extinction, although they still suffer from some localized factors such as felling of their roosting trees, mainly for roads. In some parts of their range, these bats are hunted for food and medicine.
This species is common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. As reported by Zoos Print, populations of this species have been estimated in the following areas: Bundala (Sri Lanka) - 50,000 individuals (data from 2006); Nallur near Chennai (Tamil Nadu) - 6000 Indian flying foxes; Limkheda, Dahod District, Gujarat State - 5000 individuals, found on 3 Ficus trees; Bangladesh - a single colony of about 2500 individuals. Further, as reported by the Academia resource, there have been found 287 individuals in the town of Dhubri (Assam). Overall, Indian flying foxes are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List, but their numbers are decreasing.
Feeding upon a wide variety of fruits and flowers, these animals act as important seed dispersers of these plants, thus benefiting the ecosystem of their range.