Flying foxes

Little-red-flying-foxes-at-Redcliffe-Botanic-Gardens.jpg

Flying foxes (also known as fruit bats) are the largest flying mammals on earth. Locally, black and grey-headed flying foxes are usually present all year round, whereas little red flying foxes are nomadic visitors, usually appearing in the warmer months when their preferred food trees (Bloodwoods) are in flower. 

The areas where humans and flying foxes live are overlapping more and more, due to ongoing habitat loss and roost sites becoming established in urban areas.

Flying Fox facts

  • Flying foxes are intelligent, social animals that live in communal roost sites (roosts) during the day. Roosts may be occupied permanently, seasonally or sporadically, and may consist of dozens, or up to tens of thousands of individuals.
  • Flying foxes are capable of long-distance movements and regularly move between roosts. Flying fox roosts are like airports - they are always busy, but different individuals are present on different days.
  • Flying foxes forage at night, and due to their mobility, are critical long-distance pollinators of many native tree species (e.g. Eucalyptus species). As they feed on the nectar of flowers pollen sticks to their fur, and then as they fly off they pollinate many trees over a long distance (up to 50km in a single night!). 
  • Flying foxes also spread seeds over long distances from the fruit that they eat.
  • Flying foxes only give birth to one young per year. Dependent young cling to the mother’s underarm nipple with their mouth and hang onto the waist with their toes. Mothers carry their young when foraging for the first 3-4 weeks, and then leave them in a creche overnight and retrieve them at dawn to their young through smell and sound.

There are three species of flying fox in the Moreton Bay Region:

Grey headed flying fox

Grey-headed flying fox
(Pteropus poliocephalus)

Black flying fox
Black flying fox
(Pteropus alecto)

Little red flying fox

Little red flying fox
(Pteropus scapulatus)

Images by Cathie Howie

What is Council doing to manage flying foxes?

Council monitors flying fox numbers at known roosts in the region throughout the year, and the data is used to inform flying fox management. View Council’s monitoring data.

Council adopts a balanced approach to flying fox roost management that recognises the well-being of residents and the need for responsible management of wildlife. Council’s preferred approach is to create buffer zones between flying foxes and houses through modification of non-native vegetation within roosts on Council-managed land.

Council can provide advice to property owners but does not reimburse residents for work to mitigate impacts of flying foxes on privately owned land. Further information can be found in Council's Statement of Management intent to manage flying fox roosts(PDF, 943KB).

 

Why doesn't Council disperse flying foxes?

Dispersal involves intentionally disturbing flying foxes (e.g. using smoke, noise, and/or light) to encourage them to move elsewhere. This is typically carried out in the early morning as flying foxes return to roosts from foraging. Council does not support this approach for several reasons:

  • Dispersed flying foxes do not move far, and often into similar areas of conflict (i.e. someone else’s backyard).
  • Dispersal can splinter one roost into several roosts, increasing the overall level of conflict in the community.
  • Unless there is extensive vegetation removal, flying foxes will continually return to the original site, requiring ongoing resources over a prolonged period to continue the dispersal activity.
  • Dispersal is expensive and ultimately there is a poor chance of success.

Do flying foxes pose a health risk?

A very small percentage (<1%) of wild flying foxes carry Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV). A bat bite, scratch or mucous membrane exposure to bat saliva (through eyes, nose or mouth) is necessary to transmit the virus. Coming into contact with flying fox urine or faeces does not pose a risk of exposure to ABLV, nor does living, playing or walking near roosts. For further information, visit Queensland Health.

Unfortunately, there have been instances where well-meaning individuals have been bitten or scratched when attempting to assist an injured flying fox on the ground. Like any wild animal, an injured flying fox is likely to defend itself if stressed or provoked. If you see an injured flying fox, do not attempt to handle it, and phone the RSPCA on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625). A trained and vaccinated wildlife carer can collect the animal for treatment.

Flying fox legislation

Flying foxes are native animals and all three species are protected under the Queensland Government Nature Conservation Act (1992). Local Governments are authorised to carry out certain activities within flying fox roosts in mapped urban areas in accordance with the Code of Practice - Ecologically sustainable management of flying fox roosts.

In addition, the grey-headed flying fox is classified as vulnerable under the Commonwealth Government Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999).

Little red flying foxes - nomadic visitors

Little red flying foxes are the smallest of Australia’s flying foxes but are capable of flying huge distances. One little red flying fox fitted with a tracking collar at Woodford was later recorded north of Yeppoon ten days later. Little red flying foxes are nomadic and track the flowering of their preferred food trees, and are particularly fond of pink bloodwood (Corymbia intermedia). They are typically present in south-east Queensland during the warmer months.

Little red flying foxes will roost amongst the other flying fox species, and upon their arrival can swell roost numbers into the tens or even hundreds of thousands. They can be distinguished from black and grey-headed flying foxes by roosting closer to the ground, and also cluster together like grapes on a vine.

The arrival of little red flying foxes can trigger heightened discussions in the community, and also create the perception of flying fox ‘population explosions’. However, little red flying foxes will move on when their preferred feed trees are no longer in flower (unlike the other two species which are present year-round). While flying foxes are still unpredictable animals, monitoring data collected by Council shows that little red flying foxes will typically be present at roosts from between six to eight weeks.