Hypsignathus monstrosus


I love the beautifully hideous organisms on our planet- the awkward and the bizarre. One such animal is the hammer-headed bat, Hypsignathus monstrosus. A fruitbat who likes to live close to the equator, it is the largest bat in Africa with a wingspan ranging between ~70 to 100 cm wide. The characteristic head of this species belongs to the males, who produce resonant honking sounds. The females appear more fox-like, akin to most other fruit bats.

While I wish I could see this bat in person (if only to verify with my own eyes what Google Images has shown me), it might be one of the last things I did. This bat, along with two other species of African fruitbat (Epomops franqueti and Myonycteris torquata) have evidence of being reservoir hosts for the Ebola virus. A reservoir host is any population which can sustain an infection, and are usually asymptomatic. Knowing which species are reservoir hosts allow us to modify our behaviour to avoid contact with them, and thus avoid transmission of the pathogen.

The Ebola virus had its first (recorded) human outbreak in 1976. The first victim was a teacher who had gone hiking in the forest. He died within two weeks after the onset of his symptoms. Of the 313 people in his village that were infected, 280 of them died. These numbers seem devastating, but since that first outbreak (and excluding the 2000 outbreak) there have only been ~1500 cases and ~1000 deaths worldwide.

There is no cure for Ebola, though there is a Canadian company that is coming out with a promising drug.




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