Fruit bats (pteropodidae) fuel their metabolism rapidly and directly with exogenous sugars

O. Amitai, S. Holtze, S. Barkan, E. Amichai, C. Korine, B. Pinshow, C. C. Voigt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Previous studies reported that fed bats and birds mostly use recently acquired exogenous nutrients as fuel for flight, rather than endogenous fuels, such as lipids or glycogen. However, this pattern of fuel use may be a simple size-related phenomenon because, to date, only small birds and bats have been studied with respect to the origin of metabolized fuel, and because small animals carry relatively small energy reserves, considering their high mass-specific metabolic rate. We hypothesized that -150g Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus Pteropodidae), which are more than an order of magnitude heavier than previously studied bats, also catabolize dietary sugars directly and exclusively to fuel both rest and flight metabolism. We based our expectation on the observation that these animals rapidly transport ingested dietary sugars, which are absorbed via passive paracellular pathways in the intestine, to organs of high energy demand. We used the stable carbon isotope ratio in exhaled CO213Cbreath) to assess the origin of metabolized substrates in 16 Egyptian fruit bats that were maintained on a diet of C3 plants before experiments. First, we predicted that in resting bats δ13Cbreath remains constant when bats ingest C3 sucrose, but increases and converges on the dietary isotopic signature when C4 sucrose and C4 glucose are ingested. Second, if flying fruit bats use exogenous nutrients exclusively to fuel flight, we predicted that S13C breath of flying bats would converge on the isotopic signature of the C4 sucrose they were fed. Both resting and flying Egyptian fruit bats, indeed, directly fuelled their metabolism with freshly ingested exogenous substrates. The rate at which the fruit bats oxidized dietary sugars was as fast as in 1Og nectar-feeding bats and 5g hummingbirds. Our results support the notion that flying bats, irrespective of their size, catabolize dietary sugars directly, and possibly exclusively, to fuel flight.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2693-2699
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number15
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2010


  • Chiroptera
  • Flight
  • Metabolic rate
  • Stable isotopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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