Flying Fox (Bat)

Family: Ptreropodiae

Scientific names: Pteropus scapulatus (Little Red Flying Fox) Pteropus alecto (Black Flying Fox)

Flying Foxes in the Environment

Black Flying Foxes and Little Red Flying Foxes are two common species in the Northern Territory. Both species are present in other locations throughout Australia.

The Little Red Flying Fox forms very large colonies – in some cases, colonies have been reported to contain up to five hundred thousand animals! Black Flying Foxes are the largest flying foxes (in terms of body size) in Australia, but the number of animals in each colony tends to be much smaller.

Flying fox colonies move according to variations in climate and the flowering and fruiting patterns of their preferred food plants. Flying foxes prefer to live in moist, warm habitats, including gullies in lowland rainforest, coastal stringy bark forests and mangroves, often beside a creek or water body. Sites where young are born become very important to them, and they will often return to these sites to roost in subsequent years.

Flying foxes are very important pollinators and seed dispersers of many native plants including Eucalypts, figs, bush apples (Syzygium spp.), bush plums (Terminalia spp.), paperbarks, grevillas, and fruits of many palm species. The seeds of some plant species (particularly those with white and green fruits) may only be dispersed by flying foxes, meaning that these plants rely on flying foxes in order to successfully reproduce. It has been estimated that a single flying fox can dispense up to 60,000 seeds in a single night

Flying foxes fly over much greater distances than many other animals, dispersing seeds and pollen as they feed. Thus, seed and pollen that is collected in one location can be moved a considerable distance in a relatively short time. This increases the genetic diversity of these plants, which has considerable health benefits for plant communities.

Flying foxes are also important for nutrient regeneration and nutrient cycling within the ecosystem. Not only do they provide large quantities of fertiliser to the system, but they create gaps in the canopy which enables other plants to compete more effectively. For instance, some trees shade ground-dwelling plants and shrubs, preventing them from obtaining nutrients, light and rain. By creating a gap in the canopy, flying foxes enable these plants to obtain more sunlight, rainfall and nutrients, thus promoting a more diverse plant community, with cascading benefits for many other animals and plants.

Feeding

Flying foxes are nocturnal foragers that primarily feed on blossoms, but they may scavenge for fruit, nectar, sap and occasionally the leaves of native plants. Eucalypts, tea-trees, grevilleas, figs and lilly pillys are their favoured food plants. However, they will also eat insects if blossoms are unavailable. Flying foxes prefer to forage locally for food, with the majority of feeding occurring within 5-15 kilometres of their roosting site. However, they will travel up to 50km to feed if necessary.

Threats

In Australia, Flying fox population size and distribution has changed significantly since European settlement. Land clearing for forestry, mining, and agriculture has lead to a loss of natural habitat and loss of regular food supply for flying foxes. Human infrastructure and interference such as barbed fencing and powerlines have also impacted on Flying fox populations.

Interactions With People

In areas occupied by humans, Flying foxes take advantage of the reliable food supplies, moist habitats, and well lit conditions (Flying foxes use eyesight and hearing to navigate). In urban areas, people consider flying foxes to be a nuisance because of their odour, noise, and droppings. Roosting activities can also cause considerable damage to the vegetation at roosting sites, particularly when camps are located within small patches of vegetation.

Do not handle flying-foxes

Flying-foxes are difficult to handle and only people previously vaccinated and trained in the care and rehabilitation of these animals should do so. If you find a sick or injured flying-fox contact the Parks and Wildlife Service on 8973 8888 or the Wildlife Rescue Service on 0407 934 252.

Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL)

ABL has been identified in several species of flying-fox including the little red flying-fox and the black flying-fox.

The virus can be transmitted from flying-fox and bat saliva to humans via bites and scratches. ABL is not spread in flying-fox urine, blood or faeces and cannot survive outside of the animal’s body for more than a few hours. ABL is not thought to live long in dead flying-foxes.

If you are scratched or bitten by a flying-fox, wash the wound thoroughly with soap under running water. Cover the wound and seek medical advice at your nearest hospital or clinic immediately. Before handling or caring for flying-foxes and bats, people should be vaccinated.

Fruit soiled by flying-fox urine or faeces should be washed before consumption

What You Can Do

If you have problems with flying foxes roosting in your yard, there are a number of things that you can try to reduce these problems:

  • Do not handle flying foxes
  • Remove tall trees that may be selected by Flying foxes as roosting sites.
  • Preventing disturbances near Flying fox roosting sites and limiting the use of loud machinery such as chainsaws and lawn mowers can reduce the noise that flying foxes make when they are disturbed.
  • Prune trees to reduce the protection offered to Flying foxes. Since Flying foxes will select cool and shaded trees, pruned trees are less attractive.
  • Reduce the availability of fruit by tying bags around developing fruit on the trees and removing excess fruit from trees.
  • To prevent damage caused by bat droppings, cover vehicles with a tarpaulin.
  • In the initial stages of Flying foxes moving into your backyard, air horns or other loud noises (e.g. banging on pots) may encourage flying foxes to move to another area.

Flying foxes are a protected species in the Northern Territory. For this reason, it is important that members of the public do not interfere with these animals without an appropriate permit.