I’ve lived in the Philippines a long time. I’ve seen a lot of strange things.
So why is it I’ve never encountered the giant Golden-Crown Flying Fox Bat?
People on social media are hip to the Golden-Crown Flying Fox Bat. There are photos circulating online that look 1,000 percent fake of some nightmarish man-sized thing hanging upside-down from a Filipino dude’s porch in the provinces. There’s a Filipino kid in the lower corner, for scale, next to a motorcycle and a basket of fruit hanging nearby. And in the center, a slumbering man-sized bat creature that’s pretty hard to miss.
Everyone who sees it says it’s a fake. I thought it was fake. Like, just your average guy, wrapped in a black cloth, wearing a bat mask, hanging by his toes. Just the kind of thing that Filipino web pranksters have been known to do for laughs.
But according to Snopes.com, it’s for reals. There’s a category of really scary chiroptera called “megabats,” some of which reach almost six-foot wingspans. They point out the original photo was posted on Reddit in 2018 and captioned “Golden Crowned Flying Fox” (Acerodon jubatus), also known as the Golden-Capped Fruit Bat. But since it lacks the golden fur, they’ve speculated it’s maybe a Large Flying Fox (Pteropus vampyrus).
My daughter brought the über-creepy photo to my attention, and I decided to investigate. (She doesn’t think it’s a bat, though; she’s convinced it’s aswang.)
Typically, people post up horrified reactions to the viral photo:
“Remember when I told y’all about the Philippines having human-sized bats?” wrote one user. “Yeah, this was what I was talking about.”
“Just imagine this bat waking up and flying straight at you,” another posted. “I’d leave the country.”
“Dude that’s a vampire,” wrote another.
Snopes even posted another angle of the same bat, and that one’s even creepier… because it appears to be awakening from a nap.
There’s also one of Filipino soldiers who have apparently strung up one of the megabats, and inserted what looks like a… cigarette?... in its mouth. Pranksters, I tell ya.
Some perspective is required: these megabats are rare fruit eaters, endemic to the forests of Philippines, weighing about two to three pounds. Despite the scary photos, they are not human-sized; their bodies are typically one to two feet, the size of an infant or toddler, but the wingspan makes them look absolutely horrifying. They’re harmless vegetarians, so even when they come barreling towards you in your sweat-soaked nightmares tonight, they’re probably just looking for some mango to suck on. And they’re endangered, so if you want to Adopt a Megabat, maybe WWF can get cracking on that.
Almost a bigger mystery than the freakishly huge bat is the question of where the photos actually come from. Snopes seems to verify the original Reddit poster is from the Philippines. Since it first came to light, the original porch-hanging bat image has been recirculating regularly, garnering about 270,000 likes and 70,000 comments.
And yet, I’ve never seen one in real life.
We watch the skies most nights and, at around dusk, the bats start flitting around, looking for bugs and fruit, I suppose. But they’re the bats of mini-nightmares. Tiny, frisky little winged rodents. Not megabats.
We’ve visited Club Paradise in Palawan, just a boat-ride away from the infamous Calauit animal preserve that was stocked by Marcos with giraffes and zebras back in the ‘70s. Every night at sunset, the bats take off en masse from Club Paradise’s leafy forests circling the beach and head out like a squadron straight from Apocalypse Now. It’s a breathtaking sight.
But no megabats.
Megabats would be easy to spot here. With that kind of wingspan, one of these things would make a pretty majestic — albeit blood-curdling — sight, if they ever came soaring across Metro Manila skies.
Whenever I think an enormous bat is weird, alarming news, I remind myself that the Philippines is a factory of weird, alarming news. Off-the-charts weirdness. The fun, non-lethal kind is my favorite.
This is the home of the Bionic Boy, after all, said to have been adopted by the Marcoses as a sort of mascot, and known for his ability to tell the future, make phone calls without the aid of telephones, and conjure up fried chicken from thin air.
This is a place where military coup plotters were thwarted by an actual tank driving through the front lobby of the Manila Peninsula during GMA’s term. Just like a Dwayne Johnson movie.
This a place where midgets bash each other silly in a miniature boxing ring in Padre Burgos while foreigners pay cash to cheer them on, and where ghosts haunt the old concrete Manila Film Center.
So of course, a huge megabat fits right into the mise en scène.
A megabat would probably take our minds off of the COVID lockdown, and the sudden return of horrific traffic. It would be something to talk about besides the Anti-Terror Law. Filipinos, in general, have an affinity for bats, or at least Bat-Men. There is the familiar phrase, delivered with a shrug whenever uncertainty arises: “Bahala na si Batman.”
So where’s the giant Golden-Crown Flying Fox Bat been hiding?
Doesn’t it know that now would be a perfect time to show its furry face, when the world seems to be plummeting down so many simultaneous rabbit-holes of apocalyptic surreality that an enormous bat creature would just make perfect, Biblical-level sense?
Forget about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. We need a sign from the skies. We need the megabat!