Flying-foxes, or fruit bats, are a protected species and play an important ecological role in the pollination of native flowers and the dispersal of natural forest seeds. Any unauthorised attempt to disturb or kill flying-foxes is illegal.
- are long lived mammals (up to 20 years), slow to mature, have long gestation and their young spend around four months on milk
- mainly eat nectar and fruit and have a preference for native varieties
- are the main pollinators of many native eucalypt and rainforest trees and are extremely important to maintaining biodiversity in Australian forests
- are generally undesirable neighbours for humans, especially when in large numbers or for extended periods.
Flying-fox species most likely to roost in our region are:
- Distinctive features are straw coloured fur around the eyes and eye rings with an adult body length of around 23cm
- Mate in March and April and give birth to a single young between October and December.
- Are classified as ‘endangered’ under the Federal Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 due to significantly decreased numbers over the past 50 years.
- Are predominantly rainforest dwellers and populations are confined to North Queensland
Little Red Flying-foxes
- Have reddish or light brown fur with a greyish head, brown semi-transparent wings, adult body length is 12–20 cm.
- Mate November–January and give birth to a single young in April and May.
- Move seasonally in response to the patterns of flowering eucalypts and paperbarks and form only temporary camps (they can share camps with other species during the breeding season).
- Roost in tight clusters of up to 30 bats, the weight of which may cause damage to trees.
Flying-foxes in Australia are known to carry two infections that can pose a serious risk to human health — Australian Bat Lyssavirus and Hendra Virus. Human infections with these viruses are very rare and there is negligible public health risk if bats are not handled.
Australian Bat Lyssavirus can only be transmitted to humans when infected flying-fox saliva comes into contact with human tissue through an open wound or mucus membrane e.g. eyes, nose and mouth. It is very important not to handle flying-foxes. Humans are not exposed to the virus if flying-foxes fly overhead or feed or roost in gardens and it is not spread through droppings or urine, or if one lives, plays or walks near their colonies.
Outbreaks of Hendra Virus are rare. To date a small number of horses have become infected with Hendra Virus, apparently after contact with flying-foxes or their body fluids. There is no indication that humans can catch the virus directly from flying-foxes.
If you are bitten or scratched by a flying-fox, immediately wash the wound with soap and water and apply an antiseptic solution. Consult a doctor as soon as possible to assess the need for further treatment. A vaccine and immunoglobulin is very effective in preventing infection if given soon after the bite or scratch.
Injured flying fox
If you find a dead or injured flying-fox do not attempt to handle it yourself. Contact:
- The Bat Hospital 4091 2683, tolgabathospital.org
- Tablelands Wildlife Rescue 4091 7767, tablelandswildliferescue.com
- Contact us if it is in a public area.
Flying-foxes use sound as a means of communication. Their hearing is similar to humans, making their calls clearly audible to our ears. Calls during the day occur mainly during the mating season or as a response to disturbances like dogs, birds of prey, planes, machinery (chainsaws, lawn-mowers and loud bangs) in or near their camp and people walking through the colony. Flying-fox noise can be minimised by preventing disturbances at their camp sites.
Odours are used for identification and as attractants during the mating season. Flying-foxes defecate primarily at their feed sites, not at their camps. Smell is not generally caused by a build-up of guano underneath the colony, but by the bats themselves. As in other mammals, this may be intensified during very hot and humid weather when bats sweat and fan themselves to keep cool.
Flying-foxes can defecate in flight, splattering objects beneath their flight path with excrement or guano. Guano is easily removed with water and does not pose a serious health hazard.
If the droppings of any animals collect on your roof (usually only of concern if you are living close to the flight path of a large number of flying-foxes), and you collect that rainwater for drinking purposes, contaminants could wash into your rainwater tank. In these instances, it is advisable to have a device that allows the first flush of rainwater to be diverted from your tank. It’s always good hygiene practice to keep your rainwater tank covered, and at regular intervals chlorinate the tank, drain and clean both the tank and the roof area used for rainwater collection.
Teach children to always wash their hands with soap and water after playing outside where flying-foxes may have been. It is best to bring children’s toys inside or store them under cover before dusk, to avoid droppings soiling toys. Children should be taught to never touch a flying-fox.
Normal pool maintenance practices (e.g. cleaning, filtration and chlorination) should remove any contamination associated with flying-fox droppings.