Friday, February 13, 2009

What comes out in the blackest ink of night?

Image of a Pteropus vampyrus taken from Disney's Animal Kingdom. Taken by myself (Raul654) in January, 2006. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled 'GNU Free Documentation License'.Dear Gentle Reader,

Your Heroine and humble scribe are in Siem Reap, Cambodia. 

It's dark. 

By dark, I mean it is the blackest ink of night.

We're walking by the river.

There are very few lights, and the night sky seems to suck up luminescence like a fountain pen inhaling a reservoir of ink.

But, we are near the International Press Club, so there is some back light for us to pick our way along the broken pavement, and there are a few scattered light bulbs on poles, straining to light up the ink.

We stop at a park bench to look up and to appreciate the stars valiantly trying to glimmer up the night.

Suddenly, a small bat swoops from one tree, to another.

No. It couldn't be a bat. Its a rat. It's running swiftly along a branch.

Wait. It's a small monkey, it's too big to be a rat.

But there must have been an owl after it...

Then if flies to another tree...

Then a troop? A pack? Herd? Swarm? What? Of what?

Flying foxes!

A swooping den of flying foxes are playing on and between the trees! Soaring here, running there, chittering and squeaking as they play tag across the inky slick of night.

We watched these flying foxes run on the branches and fly from tree to tree, true as arrows, soaring as far as 30 m (100 ft). They might have been going farther, but there was so little light that we couldn't make out the extreme ends of their flights.

We watched, legs outstretched and heads craning back behind the park bench, until our necks cramped. 

We kept watching until our necks' spasmed.


I took no pictures, but I found some pictures in the public domain through the Wikimedia Commons.

Image of a Lyle's Flying Fox, found in Phnom Penh, technically called Pteropus lylei. This image is from and was taken on 7 de abril de 2007 by Diana Lili M. This file is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License. This image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was reviewed on 21-December-2008 by the administrator or trusted user Bidgee, who confirmed that it was available on Flickr under the above license on that date. This image was sourced from the Wikimedia Commons.This pup, shown to the right, is a Lyle's flying fox, commonly found in Cambodia from Siem Reap down to Phnom Penh. 

I don't know if we saw Lyles's flying fox or a large Vampire bat (another variety of flying fox) because it was so dark, but both varieties are found there.

Flying foxes are found in the air, on the trees, in kitchens, and on plates...

Plates? These beautiful creatures are on the CITES endangered species list.

Still, both varieties are eaten as food, though their idea of a good meal is fruit; even the vampires are vegetarian...

I was not able to take any pictures because it was (a) too dark and (b) I had not brought a camera with me due to the fact listed under point (a).

Just looking at these public domain images, though, shows you why they are called flying foxes.

These are the biggest bats in the world. Sub-order Megachiroptera. For a while, some people thought they represented a primate species that took to the air (from the trees) instead of going back too the ground. 

Evolutionary evidence, however, does not support that contention.

The next image was taken from Australia and shows a flying fox in the daytime. 

Apparently not only are the seasons backwards, down under, but the diurnal/nocturnal patterns are reversed too!

Image of a flying fox Vampire bat, also found in the air, on trees, in the kitchens, and on plates in Phnom Penh. This image was sourced from Wikimedia Commons and is entitled 'This picture was taken in Geelong, Victoria Australia. It shows the wing structure which is fascinating.' The copyright holder, while preferring to remain anonymous, has stated 'I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible, I grant any entity the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.' The Wikimedia Commons notes that another picture shares the name, but that other image is clearly a different image.

Finally, the last flying fox image is another diurnal shot from Australia....

This image is titled Flying fox at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, Australia and was taken on 26/5/2007 by Daniel Vianna Mr.Rocks. It has been published through a license where permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled 'GNU Free Documentation License'. This image was sourced through the Wikimedia Commons.

Imagine squirrels or chipmunks, the size of foxes, gamboling and playing the night away.




Cloudia said...

I will treasure this experience, till at last I belive that it was my own. SO GREAT! You'll always have that magic night, lucky two. A happy Valentine's season of wonders shared. You guys are cool. Aloha-

jjdebenedictis said...

Ooh, aah! That would be so cool.

We saw flying foxes at the Singapore Night Zoo. One was as close as a metre and a half away, looking at us while eating its papaya.

They are such gorgeous animals--soft, shiny fur like a black cat's, supple lustrous leather wings, enormous shiny eyes, and cute fox faces.

The scary monster claws are a bit alarming, however.

Jenn Jilks said...

That beats my little flying squirrel video/post all to heck! Our wee friend is back tonight, too! It peers around the corner watching me as I watch it.

Thanks for the vicarious trip! It's still snowing today, all day.

Barrie said...

Very very very interesting. I love this kind of trivia. Thank you!

Barbara Martin said...

Fun post today, Chris, and something new for me to learn. Thanks a bunch.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Wow. I think I'd be a bit freaked out if my first experience of these creatures was at night, but I'd love to see one up close. I've seen flying squirrels, but never flying foxes.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

How delightful, Sepiru Chris! Your description made me feel I was there too, watching the bats gambolling around the night sky. Thank you.

Junosmom said...

I don't believe I've ever seen a flying fox, though I've see large fruit bats at the zoo. It must be an amazing journey to go to a country with animals so very different from what one knows.

Junosmom said...

PS we have bats that come out nightly (in the summer anyway) and I love to see them flying overhead. These small bats eat lots and lots of mosquitos.

Lauren said...

Those are so super cool. You are in Cambodia now? That is even cooler. I hope you are enjoying yourselves!

The Weaver of Grass said...

If you don't mind I'll stick to our tiddly little pipistrelles on the farm - they are sweet - would not like to have your experience at dead of night.

rebecca said...


You and your heroine are indeed very brave! Very brave! What a wonderful, educational post. I was not familiar with these type of bats. It's no secret that I love animals and that I am their biggest advocate. These critters, however, have my full support as long as they don't come anywhere near me. It is one of the animals on earth that I am most scared of. Scared! To walk in the "ink of night" with these little/big guys flying overheard will NEVER -- let me repeat -- NEVER happen! Yes, I am true, scaredy-cat girl and proud of it. :)

Again, your writing is beautiful in prose. And once again, you've earned top honors as one of the best posts of the week. This shall be posted on my sidebar forthwith!

bindu said...

That must have been really fascinating! What an experience. Austin has a large urban bat colony that lives under a bridge downtown. They come out every night in a large cloud in late summer, and it's a great sight.

Cambodia ... I'm envious! :)

Lorie said...

Just last night I learned about a creature commonly called the "flying lemur" (colugo), which is unrelated to the flying fox, but also found in south-east Asia. I was watching part of the BBC series "Planet Earth". If you haven't seen it, I recommend getting the DVD and a very large HD television for just this purpose - it's spectacular. Anyway, as David Attenborough proclaimed in his dulcet tones, the flying lemur is neither a lemur nor does it fly, rather it glides. Interestingly, it is the closest to primates of all living animal species.
What a magnificent world we live in!

Sepiru Chris said...


Wow! Thanks! It was remarkable watching them soar and scamper overhead...


1.5 m would be fantastic, although if they swooped by us at that distance I admit I would have been a bit freaked out...

Fantastic description of them. I don't know if I think of their monster claws as scary. Unless I am a mango...

Jenn Jilks,

I thought your flying squirrel is pretty interesting too. It almost looks like he founcy, bouncy like Tigger... and his tail seems spring-like too...


Glad you enjoyed it.


You are more than welcome.

Bunnygirl Ann,

Maybe, but the atmosphere was pretty magical. And they were quite far away. It took me a bit to realize how big they were because of their height on the trees. (About a 5 foot or 1.5 m wingspan...) I would love to see one closer, and will now stop at the zoo the next time I am in Singapore, as per OxyJen's suggestion...


I thought you were there... I was sure I saw your telescope twinkling in your quadrant of the sky... do any other folks on Camelopardalis have telescopes, too?


It is an amazing experience. I have another post planned on some other cool living things in Cambodia...

Bats eating mosquitoes are good. Flying foxes eating mangoes and dropping the pits... Sometimes worrisome...


Actually, super warm and humid...

Weaver of Grass,

I do not mind at all, and I respect diversity of opinions. They are pretty sweet though...


You are so sweet. I can see why you would not want to be among fruit eating bats... they would gobble you up in seconds flat!

Thank you for this honour a second time in a row! Egads!


Now you know what life is like for me when I visit Patagonia through your blog...

How big is this colony? How big is this cloud? Can you stand in the middle of it and have them flap all around you?

Tschuess all,

Glennis said...

Quite an experience. I have seen flying foxes and heard them,(in Australia, Malaysia and Vanuatu) but never really close, I think maybe they might bite!
The Vanuatuan people actually eat these creatures as a delicacy.

Dominic Rivron said...

Interesting. We get a lot of bats around our house - nothing this exotic, though.

Occasionally they get in. You think: what on earth is that on the wall, and when you go and look, it's a bat having a rest.

Someone came round once with a small electronic gadget which enables you to hear their calls.

bindu said...

Chris - check this link out for more about Austin's bats:

Sepiru Chris said...


You must have posted while I was posting, as I had not seen your post, Laurie.

Lemurs as a class of organisms are outstanding. I have a good friend who did her post-graduate research and thesis on the maus lemur of Madagascar, and who subsequently helped set up an international conservation programme for Madagascar. Her stories of lemurs, and working with them, are great.

And David Attenborough is always captivating. I have not seen this programme, or I have forgotten. I shall look for it.

PS. I love the asymmetry of your mbira sketch, too.


So do the Cambodians, I bit of a shame as their numbers are rapidly declining...


Bats on the walls; reminds me of my earlier years in cabins...

The acoustic equipment must have been marvellous; I hope you had a chance to listen! I will be dreaming of batspeak, tonight!


OK. It is now settled. Sometime within the next few years I will come and visit Austin and her bats.

I presume that you will know good restaurants where stories can be swapped.


D. Troy Roach said...

I loved sitting on the terrace of the International Press Club on the river in Phnom Penh at sunset. The bats flying out from under the roofs of the palaces were beautiful to watch.

floreta said...

wow, i've never even heard of these. they are actually kind of cute. but i would still probably freak out a bit if i saw one in person. esp. in the dark.