Reproductive biology

During the summer, when fruit and blossoms are mature and in good supply, flying foxes organize camps. Mating

A little red flying fox (Pteropus scapulatus) roosts alone in Atherton, Queensland, Australia. (Photo by B. G. Thomson/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

takes place at this time and small groups, or harems, form. Males soon become very territorial over the females and the roosts, marking their areas using a scent gland located on the throat.

Females are seasonal breeders and usually produce one young per year; they begin to breed at two years. During mating season, flying foxes will mate more than once per day and over the course of several days. Ovulation takes place from February to April, and births occur from September to November. Lactating lasts about six weeks, and most of the female's time during the remainder of the year is spent caring for the young.

The gestation period of the flying fox is six months. During that time, the sexes begin to segregate and pregnant females form a colony; each female then helps to care for the others by mutual grooming. Birth occurs during the day— when it is imminent, the female hangs by her thumbs and feet and licks her genital area until the pup's head begins to emerge—this can last up to several hours. After birth, the pup moves itself into a suckling position and attaches itself to a nipple. The mother will fly with her young for about two to three weeks.

The pup has light fur, the eyes are closed, and the ear flaps are down. The mother keeps her wings wrapped around the pup for warmth. After approximately three weeks, it becomes too heavy to carry with her and is left with the other young. Upon the mother's return, she is able to recognize her offspring by its unique vocalizations. In about a month, the young become better coordinated and begin to explore, and by January and February, they begin to form small groups near their mothers. Once they become able to care for themselves, the mother will again begin to accept the advances of a male.

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