BATS AND GUAVAS

Straw-coloured flying fox

THE STRAW-COLOURED FLYING FOX IS ENJOYING THAT GUAVA. IT LOOKS LIKE A FIG.

Actually it looks more like a rose apple, one of its relatives. They belong to the same family, Myrtaceae. Although the fruits are similar in appearance there are many differences between them.

SUCH AS?

SEEDS: The rose apple is hollow, with 1 to 4 loose seeds. Wild species of the guava have as many as 535 hard seeds embedded in the sweet flesh.(2) However, like wild bat-pollinated bananas, guavas have been bred so that the seeds are reduced in number and softened in consistency.

 

COMMERCIAL VALUE: Neither rose apples or rose apple products are marketed. Guava fruits can be shipped for fresh consumption elsewhere in the world but they are fragile and require careful packaging. However, guava products have a wide market.(2)

  • Guava juice
  • Guava preserves
  • Guava jam
  • Guava jelly
  • Guava paste
  • Guava chutney
  • Guava shells; canned and frozen

SO I GATHER GUAVA-LOVING BATS PLANT GUAVA TREES LIKE THEY PLANT FIG TREES, IN THEIR DROPPINGS.

Yes, and also by dropping a partially eaten fruit. Other animals and birds like guavas and plant the seeds as well.

THE STRAW-COLOURED FLYING FOX IS AFRICAN. IS THE ORIGINAL HOME OF GUAVA TREES IN THE OLD WORLD TROPICS?

No, the plant is believed to have originally grown in the New World Tropics.

Guavas were given to Christopher Columbus in l492 by the West Indian Arawaks. (1) In 1685, William Dampier, the English buccaneer-naturalist-explorer, described eating guavas near Leon, in what is now western Nicaragua, as "yellow, soft and very pleasant". He said that the guava "bakes as well as a pear . . . and makes good pies". Dampier also observed that guavas had medicinal qualities. Green guavas were "binding" and ripe guavas were "loosening." (3)

All of the bats below plant guavas. They are all bats of the New World Tropics; Mexico and South America.

From left to right: Big fruit bat, little big-eared bat, tent-making bat

 

Pallas's spear-nosed bat Jamaican fruit eating bat

Seba's short-tailed bat

WIDESPREAD POPULARITY OF GUAVA PRODUCTS MEANS THAT THE PROCESSING OF BAT-PLANTED GUAVA FRUIT PROVIDES JOBS FOR PEOPLE.

Especially in India, Brazil and Mexico where hundreds of thousands of tons of guava fruits are harvested and marketed every year. Many of those fruits are from wild plants, others are from commercial plantations. (2)

Short-nose fruit bat, a guava-seed planter in India

EVEN THOUGH THE ROSE APPLE WASN'T A SOURCE OF JOBS FOR PEOPLE, THE BRANCHES, BARK, LEAVES AND WOOD HAD OTHER VALUABLE USES. IS THAT TRUE FOR THE GUAVA TREE?

Same story.

Wood (2)

Leaves and bark (2)

Leaves (2)

YET ANOTHER BAT-PLANT THAT IS A VALUABLE ASSET IN THE WORLD.

Yes, and another tropical world annoyance. Guavas, like rose apples and carob, grow readily from seed. They have been transported to and planted all over the tropics by people who wanted their fruit.

The plants have enthusiastically adapted to their new surroundings and their dense fast-growing thickets have become a nuisance in fields, pastures and along roadsides.(2)

Despite the plant's virtues, if it interferes with human activities, it is classed as a noxious weed and destroyed.


Straw-coloured flying fox (Eidolon helvum)
Photograph: David Liebman, Lubee Bat Conservancy

References:

(1)Root, Waverley 1980. Food, Simon and Schuster, New York

(2)Morton, Julia,1987, Fruits of Warm Climates, pages 356-363;
http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton

(3)Preston, Diane & Preston, Michael, 2005, A Pirate of Exquisite Mind; The Life of William Dampier; Explorer, Naturalist and Buccaneer, Corgi Books

THE PLANT

Family: Myrtaceae (Myrtles, Eucalyptus, Cloves)

Genus: Psidium

Species: Psidium cattleianum, Psidium guajava

 

Source: Heywood, V.H., editor, 1979. .Flowering Plants of the World, Oxford University Press

THE BATS:

OLD WORLD TROPICS:
Straw-coloured fruit bat (Eidolon helvum)
Gambian epauletted fruit bat (Epomophorus gambianus)
Wahlberg's epauletted fruit bat (Epomophorus wahlbergi)
Franquet's epauletted bat (Epomops franqueti)
Peter's dwarf epauletted fruit bat (Micropteropus pusillus)
Veldkamp's dwarf fruit bat (Nanonycteris veldkampi)
Marianas flying fox (Pteropus mariannus)
Seychelles flying fox (Pteropus seychellensis)
Leschenault's rousette (Rousettus leschenaulti)
Short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus sphinx)

NEW WORLD TROPICS:
Little big-eared bat (Micronycteris megalotis)
Tent-making bat (Uroderma bilobatum)
Pallas's spear-nosed bat (Phyllostomus hastatus)
Jamaican fruit-eating bat (Artibeus jamaicensis)
Big fruit bat (Artibeus literatus)
Seba's short-tailed bat (Carollia perspicillata)

Source:

Fujita, M.S. 1991. Flying Fox (Chiroptera:Pteropodidae) Pollination, Seed Dispersal, and Economic Importance: A Tabular Summary of Current Knowledge, Resource Publication No. 2, Bat Conservation International

Database of Neotropical Bat/Plant Interaction, the New York Botanical Garden; http://www.nybg.org/botany/tlobova/mori/batsplants/database/dbase_main.htm

 

 

 

Text and illustrations by Mary Louise Alley-Crosby who thanks Dr. Merlin D. Tuttle, Founder and President of Bat Conservation International, Austin, Texas, for permission to use his photographs of the straw-coloured flying fox eating a guava, the big fruit bat and Seba's short-tailed bat as source material and the Lubee Bat Conservancy for permission to use the photograph of the straw-coloured flying fox.

This is an educational, non-profit website.

Updated May 2007

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