Birds do eat the dragon fruit Hylocereus undatus

posted in: Feeding-plants | 7

The dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus) was introduced to this part of the world only during the last few years as a dessert fruit. Initially, fruits with whitish-grey flesh and tasting bland were sold in supermarkets. Later, the sweetish, reddish fruits were introduced (below).

The plant is an epiphytic or climbing cactus. The green stem is angular, spiny and scrambles over supports, including other plants, bearing roundish, red fruits (above left). Flowers are large, fragrant and open in the evening (above right). Originating from Central and South America, it is now cultivated in many Southeast Asian countries.

Tan Teo Seng grows the plant in his Malaysian farm in Kota Tinggi, Johor. He reports that birds do not eat the sweet flesh embedded with tiny black seeds, or any other animals for that matter. This is because the fruit is a recent introduction and animals have yet to discover it. In an effort to confirm his claims, I obtained a few fruits from him and placed them in my garden. He was right, no animals, including squirrels and birds like Javan Myna (Acridotheres javanicus), Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) and Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) came anywhere near the fruits for some time.

Then on the morning of 18th March 2013, I noticed that the fruit left in the garden had nearly all its flesh removed after being intact for two days. Keeping watch, a family of Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus), two adults and a juvenile, was seen coming back regularly to finish off the fruit. The two adults were eating the fruit (above) as well as feeding the begging juvenile with bits and pieces (below).

A few weeks later, with a fresh supply of fruits, I tried again. This time the family of Red-whiskered Bulbul was nowhere to be seen. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to photograph a Yellow-vented Bulbul eating the fruit (below).

These are possibly new feeding records for Singapore. I am sure in countries where these fruits are grown commercially, there would be reports of birds eating them. With time other species will be introduced to these fruits and in the process the seeds will be dispersed around Singapore.

YC Wee & Tan Teo Seng
March 2013

7 Responses

  1. Am

    Very interesting post! Seems like the birds initially weren’t sure if it was edible. But someone had to try eventually! Hope to see more experiments of this sort in the future. (By the way, Javan mynas LOVE papayas. Did an experiment of my own a few months ago!)

  2. Pat

    I understand that Dragonfruit species with intensely-red pulp (as eaten by birds in the above photos) is known as Hylocereus costaricensis [misapplied: H. polyrhizus] (Costa Rica Pitaya, Buah Naga Merah Super).

    In Kluang Malaysia where Hylocereus costaricensis is cultivated & sold, I observed that the fruits (& pulp juices) are consumed by Long-Tailed Macaques.

    As for the case in Singapore, have you tried putting out the below similar-looking/tasting fruits for birds & other fauna ? What is their reaction ?

    * Hylocereus undatus (Buah Naga Putih) – white pulp, pinkish-red peel
    * Hylocereus polyrhizus (Buah Naga Merah) – red pulp, pinkish-red peel
    * Hylocereus megalanthus (Buah Naga Berkulit Kuning) – white pulp, yellow peel

  3. YC

    Yes, you may be right. However, there appears to be a lot of confusion about the correct name – and I am yet to be convinced which is the right one. I will try get the fruits with white pulp and leave it outside… Thanks for the info on the macaques.

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