Why The Internet Blew Up Over This Real “Human-Sized” Bat

In June 2020, a Twitter user posted about the “human-sized” bats that live in the Philippines. The post garnered thousands of likes and raised even more questions. Was the bat real? Was it as dangerous as it appeared?

It may surprise some people that these megabats are real, and the picture had appeared on the internet before. Learn where the photo came from and how this real, “human-sized” bat both fascinated and freaked out the internet.

A Not-So-Normal Encounter In The Philippines

A bat hangs from a branch.
DEA / DANI-JESKE/De Agostini via Getty Images
DEA / DANI-JESKE/De Agostini via Getty Images

In 2018, a Filipino man walked into his backyard only to be startled. A five-foot-tall bat hung upside-down from the canopy. It was asleep, with its wings wrapped around its body like a vampire.

What should he do? Leave the bat? Try to shoo it away? The man had no idea. As a frequent Reddit user, the man browsed both the Filipino and English versions of the site. He decided to post it to the English side, as many Westerners had never seen the animal before.

The Initial Reddit Post

A large bat hangs from an overhang.
reddit/u/sakundes
reddit/u/sakundes

The man posted a photo of the giant bat to Reddit. “What do you do when you see a Flying Fox in your backyard?” he captioned it. The picture quickly garnered over 31,000 upvotes and thousands of comments.

Some users asked how big the bat was. The user responded, “as big as a five-year-old kid?” But others disagreed. Based on the motorcycle in the background, users guessed that the bat was around six feet tall. But that couldn’t be possible–could it?

Was The Photo Real?

A flying fox yawns and stretches while hanging from a building.
reddit/u/sakundes
reddit/u/sakundes

When the photo initially went live, many people doubted its authenticity. They argued that the original poster hung up a prop or used photoshop. But later, the poster updated commenters with another photo. This time, the bat was awake and yawning.

The second photo, along with other Redditor’s research, confirmed that the picture was genuine. But this wasn’t the first time a human-sized bat would go viral. Two years later, this entire conversation would appear somewhere else online.

Reposting The Photo With Less Context

A twitter user posts about a flying fox.
@AlexJoestar622/Twitter
@AlexJoestar622/Twitter

In June of 2020, someone else stumbled upon the Reddit photo. They reposted the picture to Twitter, but this time, they gave less context. Notably, the user called it a “human-sized bat,” implying that it may be five or six feet tall.

“Remember when I told y’all about the Philippines having human-sized bats?” the user wrote. “Yeah, this is what I was talking about.” The photo went far more viral than its Reddit version; over 74,000 people tweeted about the bat.

Why Few People Believed This Photo

A diagram shows how big flying foxes really are.
@_moontaeilnct/Twitter
@_moontaeilnct/Twitter

The human-sized bat shocked the internet. Twitter users had mixed reactions; some said that the bat deserves a hug, and others expressed fear at the real-life Dracula. Many users expressed doubt about the photo, calling it a hoax.

Unlike its Reddit counterpart, the Twitter post didn’t have a second photo to confirm its authenticity. With its wings folded around itself, it does look like a prop. Many users also debated over whether it really was “human-sized.”

The Photo Is Real…But It’s Not What People Think

A young monk holds out a bat with a one-meter wing span.
Peter Charlesworth/LightRocket via Getty Images
Getty Images

If you’re wondering, the photo is real. The animal is a giant golden-crowned flying fox. It is the largest species of bat in the world and only lives in the Philippines.

However, the phrase “human-sized bat” is misleading. When people look up the bat’s height, they often see the wingspan, which is around 5.5 feet. Their bodies are actually smaller, around one foot tall. The photo’s perspective makes the bat seem bigger than it is.

Others Recognized It, Too

cell phone
Chris Weeks / Getty Contributor
Chris Weeks / Getty Contributor

Filipino Twitter users quickly commented on the photo. They confirmed that the bat was real, but some doubted whether it was a golden-crowned flying fox. It doesn’t have the golden tuft of fur on its head that the species is known for.

Still, Twitter users corrected peoples’ misconceptions. “They have a huge wingspan, but the bodies are not really that big, more or less like the same body as a medium (bit smaller) dog,” explained user @louistenantIV.

Was The Original Photo Forced Perspective?

A large flying fox sleeps while hanging from a tree in Bali.
Athanasios Gioumpasis/Getty Images
Athanasios Gioumpasis/Getty Images

There has been some speculation that the original photo used forced perspective to make the bat appear “human-sized.” An article in the Daily Mail pinpointed some photo tricks that make the bat look taller than 12 inches.

For example, the motorcycle is likely closer to the camera than it appears to be. A child appears in a larger version of the picture, but you can only see his head. It’s hard to judge scale based on the photo alone.

So How Common Are They?

A grey-headed Flying-fox soars through the sky.
GREG WOOD/AFP via Getty Images
Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Based on the sheer number of Twitter responses, you may think that Filipinos see these bats hanging on every corner. But locals hardly see them. Flying foxes usually sleep in tall trees, often in large packs. It is rare to see one hanging in someone’s backyard.

That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible, though. Other online photos show flying foxes hanging on street signs and buildings throughout the Philippines. Locals don’t need to worry, though; these bats aren’t dangerous.

They Don’t Drink Blood; They Eat Fruit

A flying fox eats mango while hanging from a tree.
Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When the photo appeared on Twitter, many related the bat to Dracula or Batman. But locals assured them that there’s nothing to fear. “They have a vegetarian diet,” Twitter user @catkid123 said. “If it wasn’t for them, there would be no seeds dispersed to plant fruit trees.”

Golden-crowned bats mainly eat tree leaves and fruits. They particularly enjoy figs, and their fecal pellets spread the seeds. Social media users described these bats as “gentle” and “harmless.”

There Are 60 Species Of Flying Foxes Worldwide

Several flying foxes hand upside-down in a tree.
NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images
NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images

In some areas of the world, giant bats are common. Sixty-five species of flying foxes live throughout Thailand, Australia, Madagascar, Indonesia, the Pacific Islands, and mainland Asia. Three species are native to the Philippines, but one has gone extinct.

The golden-crowned flying fox, which is believed to be in the original photo, is the largest of these species. Most flying foxes are less than a foot tall. Sadly, many of these bat species are vulnerable or endangered.

One Filipino Island Is Famous For These Bats

A deserted beach on Boracay Island is photographed.
NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images
P. PARAMESWARAN/AFP via Getty Images

Although golden-crowned flying foxes appear all over the Philippines, one island is known for them. Boracay, an island almost 200 miles south of Manilla, used to host thousands of these bats. In 1988, 15,000 flying foxes lived on Boracay Island.

Three species of golden-crowned flying foxes dot the northern part of the island. But despite hunting being illegal there, the population has decreased. In 2018, a survey counted only 30 bats on the island. Conservationists are working to recover the population.

Sadly, This Bat Is Endangered

A flying fox soars in the sky alone.
Getty Images
Getty Images

Golden-crowned flying foxes are a rare sight in the Philippines. Between 1986 and 2016, their population has decreased by 50%. Because of their large body size, they make easy targets for poachers and farmers.

Poachers target flying foxes for their meat, which is sold as a delicacy. Farmers will sometimes shoot at them for eating fruit off of trees. Sadly, these bats have become endangered from human interference. Cherish the photo, because you may not see another one in the future.

How Flying Foxes Help The Environment

A flying fox flies past a crane that stands on a tree.
Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images
Sumit Saraswat/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Golden-crowned flying foxes are crucial for the environment. According to Bat Conservation International, flying foxes help to grow trees. They eat fruit and spread the seeds through their excrement. These bats can disperse thousands of seeds every year.

Since bats fly from tree to tree, they also help with forest pollination. Flying foxes often follow rivers, which hosts a variety of fruit trees. Deforestation has taken a toll on these bats, but they help it grow back.

Unlike Other Bats, They Cannot Echolocate

An Indian flying fox opens its mouth while hanging from a tree.
JORGE GUERRERO/AFP via Getty Images
JORGE GUERRERO/AFP via Getty Images

Bats are famous for using echolocation; they release sonar sounds that bounce off objects and return to them. But golden-crowned flying foxes are the exception. They don’t need echolocation to feed.

Unlike other bats, flying foxes have large eyes and small ears. They can easily spot fruit and edible trees from far away. Plus, their sense of smell is incredibly strong for a bat. Bats who eat insects require echolocation, but flying foxes don’t eat bugs.

They Are Rarely Seen Around Humans

A bat expert shows a flying fox to a class.
Lewis Geyer/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images
Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Even native Filipinos were surprised to see a golden-crowned flying fox in someone’s backyard. These bats are known to avoid humans. They often inhabit trees near roads and resorts, but they rarely hang around their human neighbors.

They do, however, appreciate bat neighbors. Flying foxes live in colonies with up to 200,000 bats. It’s even stranger to see a flying fox alone, as in the photo. No one knows how or why that bat decided to hang by itself.

Researchers Know Little About Their Mating Habits

Baby Flying Foxes are seen at a temporary bat rehabilitation centre.
David Hardenberg/Getty Images
David Hardenberg/Getty Images

Golden-crowned flying foxes live in isolated colonies, which makes them challenging to study. Researchers know little about their reproductive behavior. They know that the bats reproduce in a harem, in which one male mates with several females.

Experts believe that flying foxes mate while hanging upside-down. They also carry and nurse their young while hanging. Golden-crowned bats have no known predators, but they still keep their babies close until they are old enough to fly.

Why Do Bats Hang Upside-Down?

A large flying fox hangs upside-down from a tree.
Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Although many people know that bats sleep upside-down, few know why. In truth, researchers only have theories. Some experts say that hanging makes it easier for bats to fly.

Usually, when birds fly, they need a running start. But bats can’t run. Dropping from a tree gives them enough momentum to open their wings an immediately glide. Perhaps sleeping upside-down also protects them from predators. Even so, seven species of bats don’t hang; they sleep inside leaves instead.

They’re Not Birds; They’re Mammals

A grey-headed flying fox stretches its wings while hanging on a branch.
Ian Waldie/Getty Images
Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Although flying foxes have large wingspans, they are not considered birds. They have warm blood and nurse their young with milk. Like birds, flying foxes have lightweight bones. But they fly differently from birds.

A bird flaps with its wings, which are like forearms. Instead of a forearm, a bat’s wing is made of finger-like digits. Its fingers are covered in a thin membrane called a patagium. Sometimes, bats will fan their wings to cool themselves down.

Why Flying Foxes Are Nocturnal

A flying fox soars in front of a full moon.
Ian Waldie/Getty Images
Ian Waldie/Getty Images

You may notice that the bat is sleeping during the day in the original photo. Like other bats, flying foxes are nocturnal. Many experts believe that hunting at night helps bats to avoid predators. After all, their dark fur helps them camouflage in the dark.

But scientist John Speakman of the University of Aberdeen has a different theory. He believes that bats eat at night to avoid competition from birds. After all, flying consumes so much energy that females only produce one baby per year.