FLYING-FOX FACTS

 

BATTING ABOVE AVERAGE

Flying-foxes are hard-working little Aussies. They are FIFO workers on the night shift – flying out from their camps at dusk to feed on flowering or fruiting plants and trees. And then they do the incredibly important job of spreading pollen and seeds – up to 60,000 seeds each along a 50km stretch of land every night! When their crucial work is done, they head back to camp before dawn to sleep through the day, ready for their next shift. Their contribution to the health of our native forests cannot be overstated.

SPECIES

There are only four species of flying-fox in Australia, (three of which are often seen flying and roosting in the Hunter & Central Coast Region). Flying-foxes are nomadic mammals that travel up and down the east coast of Australia, primarily along the eastern coastal plain. Grey-headed Flying-foxes are found from Ingham (110km north of Townsville in Queensland), through New South Wales and south to Victoria (and are now even found in South Australia). Spectacled Flying-foxes are typically found north of Ingham in Queensland.  Both Black Flying-foxes and Little-Red Flying-foxes are both found in Ingham – the only town in Australia you can do this.

FAMILY AND SOCIAL STRUCTURE

Flying-foxes are intelligent, social animals that live in large colonies comprised of individuals and family groups. They roost in trees during the day and establish permanent and semi-permanent camps near food sources and for birthing.

They use various calls as a form of communication, tending to make the most noise at dawn and dusk, when flying out to feed at night or returning to camp trees to sleep during the day. They can get pretty noisy when they are disturbed, but during the day, flying-foxes are generally quiet as they are nocturnal animals.

Vital Role in our Ecosystem

VITAL ROLE IN OUR ECOSYSTEM

Flying-foxes are the largest flying mammal in Australia. They are critical in ensuring the survival of our great Australian Eucalypt forests and the overall health of our ecosystem. They are keystone pollinators of the Australian bush, pollinating flowers of over 50 native trees. The pollen sticks to their fur while they’re feeding on the nectar of flowers, and then as they fly off, they are able to pollinate many trees over long distances.
Flying-foxes create new forests by dispersing seeds from the fruit they eat. They are vegetarians that forage on the fruit of over 50 native rainforest trees and vines. Their excellent vision and keen sense of smell helps them navigate their way over vast landscapes. Each flying-fox can spread up to 60,000 seeds across a 50 kilometre stretch of land in one night.

NOTE: Flying-foxes feed on >100 species of native plants; approximately evenly divided between nectar/pollen of flowering trees (eucalyptus, melaluecas, banksias) and fruits of rainforest trees and vines.

LEAN CLEAN FLYING MACHINES

Contrary to what you may have heard, flying-foxes are very clean animals that are constantly grooming and cleaning themselves. However, they also communicate by scent. Odours are used to identify camp trees, each other, and also to attract mates. Mothers are able to locate their pups in crèche trees by their scent and calls.

BATTLING FOR SURVIVAL

Flying-fox numbers have decreased dramatically over the last 50 years due to a continual loss of habitat and changing climatic patterns. Grey-headed flying-foxes are now listed as vulnerable to extinction. Urban encroachment, land clearing, agriculture and drought have led to flying-foxes seeking alternative habitat such as patches of bushland in urban areas in which to roost and forage. This has brought them increasingly into conflict with their human neighbours. So now, more than ever, we need to find ways to co-exist with this incredibly important native species.
And it is not just their survival that is at stake. The 2009 Federal Draft Species Recovery Plan for the Grey-headed Flying-fox identified that protection of the species would benefit 6 threat-listed plant species and populations, 57 threat-listed vegetation communities, 26 threat-listed birds and 19 threat-listed mammals.

 

FLYING-FOX MYTHS

FLYING-FOXES ARE PESTS AND SERVE NO PURPOSE IN OUR ENVIRONMENT

Flying foxes play a vital role in pollination and in seed dispersal in our native forests. No me, no tree.

Grey-Headed Flying Fox

FLYING-FOX MYTHS

FLYING-FOXES ARE DIRTY ANIMALS

Flying foxes are exceptionally clean animals and they invert or hang right side up in order to avoid soiling themselves.

 

GREY-HEADED FLYING FOX

Pteropus poliocephalus

 

 

APPEARANCE

  • Colour: The Grey-headed flying-fox has dark grey fur on the body, lighter grey fur on the head and russet/orange fur encircling the neck. It can be distinguished from other flying-foxes by the leg fur, which extends to the ankle.
  • Size: 23 cm to 29 cm (head and body length). Its wingspan is over one meter.

MORE INFORMATION

Commonwealth Government
New South Wales Government
Queensland Government
Victoria Government
South Australia Government
Northern Territory Government
Australian Capital Territory Government

BEHAVIOUR

  • Call: more than 30 different calls that are associated with specific behaviours; for example, mating, locating its young, defending its territory, and squabbling over food.
  • Diet: They feed on the nectar and pollen of native trees, in particular Eucalyptus, Melaleuca and Banksia, and fruits of rainforest trees and vines. They lick nectar from flowers, collecting pollen on their fur; and crush fruit in their mouths, swallowing the juice and some of the fruit but spit the seeds out. They feed at night and prefer to eat close to where they roosts (resting upside down) but can travel more than 60 kilometres in search of food. individuals will defend their feeding territory, returning to the same feeding ground each night until the food source is depleted.
  • Habitat: Subtropical and temperate rainforests, tall sclerophyll forests and woodlands, heaths and swamps as well as urban gardens and cultivated fruit crops. Roosting camps are generally located within 20 km of a regular food source and are commonly found in gullies, close to water, in vegetation with a dense canopy. Recently Camps have tended to be located within 300m of water sources.
  • Movement: They spend the day roosting in groups known as camps, hanging upside-down from the branches of trees. They leave the camp at sunset to feed, returning in the early hours of the morning or at dawn. Grey-headed Flying-foxes show a regular pattern of seasonal movement with most of the population found within 200 km of the eastern coast of Australia, from Rockhampton in Queensland to Adelaide in South Australia. They move depending on the climate and the flowering and fruiting patterns of their food sources. In times of natural resource shortages, they may be found in unusual locations.
  • Breeding: Annual mating commences in January and continues over many months. Females give birth to a single live young in September to late November each year. The baby feeds on milk from it’s mother’s nipples for five to six months. The baby clings to its mother’s belly for the first three to six weeks, before being left in a crèche in the camp while its mother looks for food at night. When she returns, she recognises her baby by its call and possibly its smell. The baby progressively learns to fly in the camp from about three months old then begins to follow the adults each night, learning how to find its own food. The young are able to feed independently when five to six months old.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Federal Status
Australia: Listed as Vulnerable (Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Commonwealth): December 2001 List)
State Listing Status
NSW: Listed as Vulnerable (Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (New South Wales): April 2018 list)
South Australia: Listed as Rare (National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (South Australia): Rare Species: June 2011 list)
Victoria: as Threatened (Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Victoria): June 2017 list)
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Vulnerable (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2017.1 list)
Victoria: Listed as Vulnerable (Advisory List of Threatened Vertebrate Fauna in Victoria: 2013 list)
NGO: Listed as Vulnerable (The action plan for Australian mammals 2012)

 

Black Flying Fox

BLACK FLYING FOX

Pteropus alecto

 

APPEARANCE

  • Colour: The black flying-fox is almost completely black in colour with only a slight rusty red-coloured collar and a light frosting of silvery grey on its belly
  • It has no fur on its lower legs.
  • Size: It’s the largest species of Flying-fox in Australia ranging from 500-1000g. 23 – 28 cm (head and body length), with a wingspan of over one metre. Forearm length up to 19 cm.

BEHAVIOUR

  • Call: loud, high-pitched squabbling!
  • Diet: They prefer pollen and nectar from eucalypt blossoms, paperbarks and turpentine trees; however, they may also eat other native and introduced flowers and fruit, including mangoes, when native foods are scarce or during drought. They have also been seen feeding on leaves by chewing them, swallowing the liquid and then spitting out the fibre.
  • Habitat: Tropical and subtropical forests, and in woodlands. Forming camps in mangrove islands in river estuaries, paperbark forests, eucalypt forests and rainforests. Large communal day-time camps are found in mangroves, paperbark swamps or patches of rainforest, often with grey-headed flying-foxes.
  • Movement: During the day they roost on tree branches in large groups known as camps. Main camps form during summer and their size varies depending on the availability of local food. They leave the camp at dusk to feed, finding food by sight and smell, and by following other bats. The groups can travel over 50 km to feed and will use the same camp for many years. Black flying-foxes are found in Northern and eastern Australia. They can fly at 35 – 40 kilometres per hour and may travel over 50 kilometres from their camp to a feeding area. They often share their camps with other flying-fox species.
  • Breeding: Mating occurs in autumn and the female gives birth in late winter or spring when food is abundant. The gather into large camps during spring and summer when their young is born. The young are carried by their mothers until they are about four weeks old when they are left at the roost while their mothers forage at night. They begin to fly at around 2 months but remain dependent on their mothers for at least three months.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Black Flying-foxes are vulnerable to loss of feeding areas from clearing of native vegetation and land degradation from agriculture. Black Flying-foxes are not currently threat-listed by the Commonwealth Government, or any State Government. As a native species, they are protected via each State or territories environmental legislation.

MORE INFORMATION

Commonwealth Government
New South Wales Government
Queensland Government
Victoria Government
South Australia Government
Northern Territory Government
Australian Capital Territory Government

 

Little Red Flying Fox

LITTLE RED FLYING-FOX

Pteropus scapulatus

APPEARANCE

  • Colour: Fur is red-brown and their wings more translucent. reddish brown-coloured fur.
  • Size: with a weight of 300–600 grams is the smallest Australian flying-fox

BEHAVIOUR

  • Diet: Little Red Flying-foxes appear to favour the nectar and pollen of eucalypt blossom over other foods that make up their diet, such as other flowers and fruit. Orchards are raided sometimes when other food is limited. They feed almost entirely on blossom of eucalypts and melaleucas
  • Habitat: Little Red Flying-foxes are known to hang out in many different habitats. They are highly nomadic, taking up camp wherever their favourite flowers and fruits are in season. The most widespread species of megabat in Australia, they fly further into inland Australia than other flying-fox species, following the flowering of eucalypts. They occupy a broad range of habitats found in northern and eastern Australia including Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.
  • Movement: Camps can contain hundreds of thousands to a million and roost closer together than other flying-foxes. Like Australia’s other flying-foxes, the little red flying-fox makes plenty of noise at night. A nocturnal feeder, they can be heard shrieking, squabbling over food or simply flying by, silent but for the beat of its wings. Using their jointed thumbs to climb, the little red flying-fox will clamber about trees while roosting or feeding.
  • Breeding:They breed at different times of year to the Grey-headed and Black Flying-fox, Little red flying-foxes give birth to one young per litter, usually in April to May, with mating occurring between November and January.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Little Red Flying-foxes are vulnerable to loss of feeding areas from forestry operations, clearing of native vegetation and land degradation from agriculture. Little Red Flying-foxes are not currently threat-listed by the Commonwealth Government, or any State Government. As a native species, they are protected via each State or territories environmental legislation.

MORE INFORMATION

Commonwealth Government
New South Wales Government
Queensland Government
Victoria Government
South Australia Government
Northern Territory Government
Australian Capital Territory Government

 

Spectacled Flying Fox

Spectacled Flying-fox (Only Present in Queensland)

PTEROPUS ALECTO

Spectacled flying-foxes have the smallest known population of the four Australian mainland flying-foxes.  The latest monitoring gives a population of less than 100,000 with calculated population figures of 75,347 in November 2016 (Westcott et. al. 2018) which represents a decline of over 75% from November 2004.  The summer counts of Spectacled Flying-foxes suggest a maximum population size of less than 95,000.

Appearance

  • Colour: Spectacled flying-foxes have distinctive straw-coloured fur around the eyes which gives them their name. Eye rings can sometimes be indistinct and they will look similar to black flying-foxes. Pale fur on shoulders can vary between individuals.
  • Size: Average weight 500–1000g
    Head–body length 220–240mm

Behaviour

  • Diet: Spectacled Flying-foxes are specialist fruit eaters that feed mostly on rainforest fruits, favouring nectar and pollen of eucalypt blossoms. They also feed on other blossoms as well as native and introduced fruits.
  • Habitat: Spectacled Flying-foxes roost high on the branches of trees. They roost together in groups often made up of many thousands the largest camps are estimated around 20,000). Camps are often found in patches of rainforest and swamps as well as mangroves associated with black flying-foxes. They are only located in Coastal Queensland from Ingham to the tip of Cape York and islands in Torres Strait. A small camp is located in the Lockyer River area. The majority of the population is located in the Wet Tropics.
  • Movement: They only forage during the night, and can travel up to 40km from camp to feed (a total travel distance of up to 80km), with an average of 7km between feeding sites.  They disperse seeds of at least 26 species of rainforest canopy trees, with 14 of these species only being dispersed through the action of Spectacled Flying-foxes.
  • Breeding: Mating is common throughout the first half of year but conception only in March–May, with single young born October–December. Mothers carry the young for 3–4 weeks. After this time, the young stay at the camp during the night until they start to fly.

Conservation Status

Non-statutory Listing Status
Federal Status
Australia: Listed as Vulnerable (Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Commonwealth): May 2002 list)*
State Listing Status
Queensland: Listed as Vulnerable (Nature Conservation Act 1992 (Queensland): September 2017 list)
IUCN: Listed as Least Concern (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2017.1 list)
NGO: Listed as Near Threatened (CD) (The action plan for Australian mammals 2012)

*NOTESpectacled Flying-foxes are currently being considered to have their status uplisted to Endangered based on the significant population decline over the past 13 years.

 

MORE INFORMATION

Commonwealth Government
Queensland Government.

 

Legislation

LEGISLATION / LEGISLATIVE RESTRICTIONS

The four flying-fox species found in Australia (Grey-headed Flying Fox, Black Flying-fox, Little Red Flying-fox and the Spectacled Flying-fox) are all protected under various state environmental legislation as native animals. Species in NSW are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.

As such, it is an offence to harm these animals. The Grey-headed Flying-fox and Spectacled Flying-fox receive further legislative protection under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 due to their National and State threat-listings that have categorised both species as Vulnerable to Extinction due to their rapidly declining populations.

Local Councils across the Flying-fox migration areas are developing and implementing Camp Management Plans which are reviewed and supported by the relevant State Government Agencies, where they comply with State mandated management guidelines and federal government protection requirements. The management activities that councils can utilise at any given Flying-fox Camp are governed by these Camp Management Plans, approved Conservation Licences and National Status of the Camp in question (some Camps are designated as Nationally Significant which will restrict the types of activities that can be carried out on site).

Over the past decade, a number of Camp dispersals have been carried out in Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria, in an attempt to move large Camps of Flying-foxes on when they are creating too much conflict with communities. Unfortunately, the scientific findings of research into the effectiveness of dispersals suggests they are largely unsuccessful, as:

  • animals will commonly relocate within 600m of their previous location
  • it is very expensive, as dispersal activities need to be continually conducted over many weeks /months as these animals are nomadic and the animals being dispersed on a given day, will likely not be the animals that are there the next day and must be moved on again. Additionally, Camp dispersals require active and ongoing monitoring to ensure the animals are not unduly stressed by the activity, and studies are required to determine where the animals move to, so monitoring must occur not only at the Camp being dispersed, but at nearby Camps that are known to exist.

As such, many Councils have determined to attempt to manage the impacts of Flying-foxes in-situ as management at a known Camp site should reduce the impact on a wide number of residents, and assist in keeping costs to a minimum.

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW

Australian Government Department of the Environment: for information on environmental law, the national flying-fox monitoring program and other information please visit http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/species/flying-fox-law