What do they look like?
Flying foxes are the largest of all bats. They have grey, fox-like heads with very large eyes. They have dark fur (even on their toes!) and are around 25cm long (but their wings can stretch as wide as 1 metre).
Where are they found?
Flying-foxes, also known as Bats, Fruit Bats or Megabats, love to move around but mainly live in forests in coastal areas of northern and eastern Australia. Four species of Flying-fox live in Australia: the Grey-headed Flying-fox, the Little Red Flying-fox, the Black Flying-fox and the Spectacled Flying-fox.
- Flying-foxes sleep during the day in ‘camps’ of up to tens of thousands of individuals. They hang upside down to sleep, but have to turn up the other way to go to the toilet.
- For four to five weeks after giving birth the mother carries her furless, single young with her to feeding sites. Once the young are completely furred, they are left in “creches” and continue to be nursed until they are independent.
Flying Fox – the full story
Flying-foxes, also known as Bats, Fruit Bats or Megabats, mainly live in forests in coastal areas of northern and eastern Australia. Four species of Flying-fox live in Australia.
Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus): The largest of Australia’s Flying-foxes, it can have a wingspan of up to 1 metre. it has grey fur, with an orange ring around the neck.
Little Red Flying-fox (Pteropus scapulatus): Has more distinctly red and orange body fur than other species. Found around the coastal regions of Australia, this species is also known to fly further inland than other species.
Black Flying-fox (Pteropus alecto): Similar in size to the Grey-headed Flying Fix but with short black fur across its body and head. It is found in tropical and sub-tropical forests and woodlands.
Spectacled Flying-fox (Pteropus conspicullatus): Listed as endangered and found in QLD. It is an important disperser of rainforest plant species.
Flying-foxes sleep during the day in ‘camps’ of up to tens of thousands of individuals. They hang upside down to sleep, but have to turn up the other way to go to the toilet.
Flying-foxes eat blossoms, nectar and pollen and fly long distances. They pollinate many different plant species and disperse thousands of seeds long distances. Flying-foxes are members of the bat family, Chiroptera – the only flying mammals. At night they can fly up to 30 km, pollinating many plant species and dispersing up to 60,000 seeds across the land as they do. Flying-foxes are a wonderful buddy to have around as they are great pollinators.
Almost all hardwood species need Flying foxes for pollination. They are the only known pollinators of some rainforest species and are also important to native plants.
Flying-foxes don’t use sound to navigate. They use their eyesight and smell. They can also navigate based on the lights in our cities!
You can look after Flying-foxes in your own backyard
Only use animal friendly netting to cover fruit trees or you may end up having to call a wildlife carer to rescue bats, birds or possums that get caught in it. It is a very stressful experience for animals caught in nets, and many don’t survive.
Plant native species of shrubs and trees that produce nectar giving flowers, blossoms and native fruits. This will keep the animals away from your fruit trees. Ask your nursery which plant species are locally native. These plants will also attract birds, as well as Flying-foxes, looking for food.
If you have barbed wire in your garden, replace it with a more animal friendly alternative.
Nectar & Pollen – are the favourite food of Flying-foxes. They will also eat native fruits. They usually only eat cultivated fruits if their usual diet is in short supply.
Tall trees – to roost in during the day. Many thousands of individual Flying-foxes can roost together in a stand of tall trees.
Travelling around – they are largely nomadic and move on with the seasons.
But they don’t like:
Barbed wire – which their wings can get entangled in. If a wildlife carer is called early enough, a Flying-fox can be rehabilitated from barbed wire fence injuries but sadly many do not survive.
Cocos Palms – which can give yummy food, but which Flying-foxes can also get stuck in! Sometimes they need to be rescued from Cocos Palms, and the unripe fruit is not good for them.
Loose netting – like the black throwover netting, is deadly to Flying-foxes and many other animals. Use only animal friendly netting if you want to protect your plants.
Be a Flying-fox buddy
- plant nectar-giving trees. Flying-foxes would much rather eat the blossoms of eucalypts, lillipillies, melaleucas, banksias, tea-trees and native fig trees than cultivated fruit.
- keep your cat indoors at night and train your dog not to bark at or chase bats.
- only use animal-safe netting if you want to protect fruit trees.
- call a wildlife carer if you see an injured or sick Flying-fox.
- using barbed wire fences around your backyard. It can cause serious injuries to Flying-foxes and other animals.
- planting Cocos Palms at your place as Flying-fox feet can get wedged in the fronds.
- handling a Flying-fox as they could scratch you. They are harmless if you leave them alone.
Don’t be surprised if:
- you see many thousands of Flying-foxes hanging upside down in a ‘camp’, sleeping in trees such as eucalypts during the day.
- you see Flying-foxes for a few days or weeks but then don’t see any for a while. They move on from area to area looking for food, and have done so for many thousands of years.
Flying-foxes and other bats in Australia can carry lyssavirus, similar to rabies. Only a qualified and vaccinated wildlife rescuer should handle bats.
If you see an injured bat do not try to rescue it yourself, contact your nearest wildlife rescue group for immediate assistance.