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Little Red Flying Foxes and the invasion of Elliott NT


" I’ve driven through the (very) small Northern Territory town of Elliott–equidistant between Alice Springs and Darwin–a few times this year.

Two weeks ago I noticed that the modest human population of around 400 or so had been multiplied many times over by an invasion of Little Red Flying Foxes Pteropus scapulatus.

Little Reds are, as the NT government’s Flying fox (bat) management in the Northern Territory information factsheet advises, is one of two (the other is the Black Flying Fox Pteropus alecto species in the NT and both provide valuable ecological services:

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, on the other hand, 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 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 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.

As with other native wildlife in the Northern Territory, the Little Red Flying Fox and the Black Flying Fox are protected under section 43 of the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act. This means that people cannot interfere with (shoot, touch, feed, take, move, injure, manage) flying foxes without a permit.

Little Red Flying Foxes Elliott 09-2016

The Little Reds have taken over a number of large trees at the northern end of the town and hang in clusters from many trees in the local park and around the Police Station.

Locals I’ve talked to are bereft as to what to do. The larger town of Katherine, 400 kilometres north of Elliott, regularly suffers under similar invasions and locals have tried everything from shooting, scare guns, smoky fires among other strategies.

The bats remain blithely resistant to such efforts.

Little Red Flying Foxes2 Elliott 09-2016

Little Reds–and the other Flying Foxes–are natural hosts for both the Hendra virus and the Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL). The NT government factsheet notes that:

On very rare occasions, Hendra virus may be spread to horses through faeces, urine or saliva, which causes respiratory and neurological disease. This can be fatal.

Hendra virus may subsequently also be transmitted to people through very close contact with secretions or body fluids of infected horses. There is no evidence of spread between flying foxes and humans or human to human spread.

On the Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL) the NT government factsheet says that:

The virus can be transmitted from flying fox 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.

Fruit soiled by flying fox urine or faeces should be washed before consumption. For more information contact Disease Control on 08 8973 9049. "

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Megabats and Microbats: Little Red Flying Foxes and the invasion of Elliott NT
Little Red Flying Foxes and the invasion of Elliott NT
Little Red Flying Foxes and the invasion of Elliott NT
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