Did you know…
- Bats are the only mammals capable of sustained flight.
- Bats are a very important pollinator of native plants and disperse seeds over a wide area.
- There are about 1100 species of bats in the world. Australia has 77 different species of bats. South-east Queensland has at least 31 different species of bats.
- The smallest bat in the world is the Bumblebee Bat which lives in Thailand and weighs only 2 grams.
- The largest bat in the world is the Giant Flying Fox which lives in India and has a wingspan of 1.8 metres.
- Bats are eutherian mammals and like humans they carry the foetus in the uterus until it is well developed.
- Bats cannot stand on their hind legs, they can only hang by their feet and also by their thumbs.
Microbat or Megabat?
Microbats are small bats with a wingspan of about 25cm. They feed on insects such as mosquito's. Many Microbats use echolocation to navigate in complete darkness. Some Microbats spend their days deep within caves while others rest beneath bark on trees and in man-made structures such as houses and buildings.
Megabats, or flying foxes or fruit bats as they are usually called, are a lot larger in size with a wingspan of up to 1 metre. They feed on fruit, blossoms and nectar. They do not use echolocation to navigate at night but have well-developed eyes and a strong sense of smell which helps them locate food. They live in social groups in trees in “camps”.
Found a Sick or Injured Flying Fox?
Flying foxes leave their camps on dusk each day and travel long distances foraging for food. In the mornings they return to their camp where they spend the remainder of the day resting and socialising. If a flying fox does not return to its camp, it may mean that there is something wrong with it. It could be injured or sick, or perhaps it is a juvenile flying fox that has travelled a little too far and has not had the strength to return back to the camp.
If you happen to find a flying fox hanging by itself in a tree or shrub during the day, you should report it to your local wildlife care group immediately even if you do not think that it is injured. When flying foxes hang with their wings wrapped around their body, it can often hide serious injuries. Your local wildlife group will then dispatch a vaccinated volunteer to check on whether the flying fox is injured and if it is, they will take the flying fox to receive appropriate treatment and care.
It is very important if you do find a flying fox, that you DO NOT TOUCH IT. You should ensure that you keep all domestic animals away from it and ensure that no one goes near the bat. Remember, they have a wide wingspan so you should keep a safe distance away from the bat.
Bats, including flying foxes, can carry the Australian Bat Lyssavirus. This disease can be transmitted to humans through being bitten or scratched by a bat. If you are bitten or scratched, the bat would need to be tested for the Australian Bat Lyssavirus. To do this, the bat would need to be euthanased in order to be tested.
All volunteer wildlife rehabilitators that rescue sick and injured bats are required to be vaccinated against the Australian Bat Lyssavirus. No unvaccinated person should ever attempt to rescue a sick or injured bat under any circumstances.
For information on Australian Bat Lyssavirus and Hendra Virus please visit the Queensland Health website http://www.health.qld.gov.au/communicablediseases/hendra.asp
Why Do Flying Foxes Need Rescuing?
Some of the common reasons why Flying Foxes that come into care in South-east Queensland are:-
Flying Foxes often come into care after hitting a car or flying into a window or building. They can suffer from a variety of injuries from mild concussion to broken wings, broken legs and/or internal bleeding.
Caught in fruit netting:
Often flying foxes are found entangled in fruit netting in suburban areas. This usually occurs when the fruit netting has been installed incorrectly. The injuries sustained can be quite severe as their blood circulation is often greatly restricted and causes their wing membrane to die back up to three weeks after being caught. For more information on the correct method of installing fruit netting wildlife friendly netting information page.
Caught on barb wire fence:
There are many commercial and rural areas in South–east Queensland where barb wire is still found. This poses a great threat to not only flying foxes, but also birds, kangaroos, koalas, possums and gliders, who become entangled in the wire when they are travelling. It is a difficult and time consuming task to untangle a flying fox from a barb wire fence and sometimes the injuries are so severe that the animal cannot be saved. Often the flying fox will try to chew itself free from the barb wire which often results in severe injuries to their mouth. In most cases it is easier to cut the fence and take the animal and wire to a veterinary clinic so they can be placed under anesthesia and the wire removed painlessly. Flying foxes are commonly caught of barbed wire when it is in place within 20m or a flowering or fruiting plant, or where fences exist on ridge lines and across creeks and dams. Replacement of barbed wire with plain wire on the top and bottom rows and/or the installation of brightly coloured horse wire or visible features (not grey coloured) on the fence can greatly reduce the chances of flying foxes being caught.
For information on wildlife friendly fencing visit the Wildlife Friendly Fencing website at www.wildlifefriendlyfencing.com
Extreme weather conditions:
Flying foxes are often found disorientated or displaced after severe storms. There have also been instances where extreme heat waves or cold has resulted in the death of thousands of animals in flying fox camps.
Flying foxes suffer from the paralysis tick in the same manner that many domestic animals do. If found and treated early, they have a better chance of survival.
Flying foxes are prone to being attacked by domestic dogs, particularly when they are feeding on low vegetation. Any animal that is bitten or suspected of being bitten by a domestic animal requires immediate veterinary attention.
Poisoning from Palm Berries:
Flying foxes tend to feed on the berries of the Cocos (Queen) Palm in South-east Queensland. This fruit though can be toxic to the bats if eaten when not fully ripe.
Trapped in Palm Fronds:
Occasionally, we receive calls for flying foxes who have managed to get their feet caught in the tight fronds of Cocos (Queen) palm trees. The exotic Cocos or Queen Palm is a listed environmental weed and is recommended by most Councils to be replaced with native palms.
Burns from power lines:
Flying foxes often land on power lines which usually causes no harm. However if the flying fox reaches out with its wing and grasps another power line it is electrocuted. Often they die shortly thereafter from the electrocution but in some instances, they can manage to drop to the ground or fly away with burns to their feet and wings. If they are carrying young, the pup can survive even if the mother has been electrocuted. Always call your Energex or Powerlink (whichever operates in your neighbourhood) to report dead bats on wires and call local Wildlife rescue
Never attempt to free the animal yourself.
As flying foxes age, their teeth wear down and they are unable to eat adequately. They then become malnourished and become weak and often then come into care.
During the birthing season, orphaned flying foxes come into care for a variety of reasons. Often their mother is electrocuted but the baby survives or sometimes they might become separated from their mother for a variety of reasons. These orphans are then bought into care and raised by a team of dedicated volunteer wildlife carers.
Identification of Flying Foxes
In South-east Queensland, there are 3 species of flying fox which commonly occur. The Grey Headed Flying Fox, Black Flying Fox and Little Red Flying Fox.
Black Flying Fox (Pteropus alecto)
The Black Flying Fox is the largest of the 3 common species found in South-east Queensland. Adults weigh 600 to 900 grams and have a forearm length of 153mm to 191mm. The Black Flying Fox has black fur often with a reddish brown mantle on the back of the neck. Its fur is sometimes tipped with white. The lower leg and ankle is unfurred. Some Black Flying Foxes have lighter fur around their eyes.
Their preferred diet includes blossoms of eucalyptus and paperbark as well as fruit. This includes the blossoms and fruit of introduced species. They congregate in camps during the day and travel up to 50kms to foraging areas at night. Mating season is in March and April, with the females typically giving birth to a single young in October and November.
The Black Flying Fox has a range from Northern Australia from around Shark Bay in Western Australia to central NSW. They also occur in Indonesia and southern New Guinea.
Grey Headed Flying Fox (Pteropus poliocephalus)
The Grey Headed Flying Fox adult weighs between 600 grams – 1000 grams. They have a forearm of 150mm – 1800mm. The Grey Headed Flying Fox has silver-grey to dark grey fur with rusty-brown to orange mantle encircling the neck. Its fur extends down the legs to the toes.
The diet of the Grey Headed Flying Fox includes the fruit and blossoms of some 80 species. The young are born between September to November and mating takes place April to May.
The Grey Headed Flying Fox has a range from around Mackay in Queensland, along the coastal strip through to New South Wales to Western Victoria. It is endemic to Australia and is listed as Vulnerable under Federal Legislation.
Little Red Flying Fox (Pteropus scapulatus)
The Little Red Flying Fox is the smallest of the species found in South-east Queensland. Adults weigh 300-600 grams and have a forearm of 125-155mm. It has a rich reddish-brown to light brown fur all over the body, often with a grey patch on the head. The wings are red-brown and are translucent in flight. There is often light creamy brown fur where the wing membrane and the shoulder meet.
Little Red Flying Foxes are predominantly blossom feeders and since the flowering of Australian plants varies depending on climatic conditions, the unpredictability of this food resource means that the Little Red Flying Fox is highly nomadic. In the camps, which they commonly share with Black and Grey Headed Flying Fox, they hang in tight groups and the combined weight often results in damage to their roost trees. Mating occurs from November to January and the young are born April to May.
The Little Red Flying Fox has a range from Shark Bay in Western Australia through Queensland and down to northern Victoria. They have a range much further inland than the other species.
Flying foxes live in communal groups. They have a preference for tall and reasonably dense vegetation close to creeks or rivers or over swampy areas. Some camps are permanent and are occupied all year round. During summer these camps are usually the largest and noisiest as they are breeding camps. For the rest of the year camps are smaller and quieter and often transitory in response to food sources. Permanent camps need an area large enough to allow bats to move within the camp so that damaged vegetation can recover.
Little Red Flying Foxes are the most destructive of campsite vegetation. This is caused by their roosting behaviour of forming dense clusters of up to 30 bats hanging from one small branch. The combined weight of the animals often causes the branches to break. The result is areas of broken vegetation that appears to have been damaged by storms. As clearing of forest vegetation continues the availability of camp sites have become more restricted and the incidence of damaged vegetation is on the increase. Flying foxes are increasingly setting up camps in suburban areas. This can be in response to destruction of existing areas due to development or the continuous disturbance of campsites. There are other advantages in the form of reliable food sources from garden fruit trees and the policy of councils planting native vegetation. Many campsites previously located in rural areas have been overtaken by the urban sprawl.
The diet of the Grey Headed Flying Fox and the Black Flying fox consist of fruit, pollen, nectar, stamen and flower parts, leaves and bark. The Little Red Flying Fox is predominantly a pollen and nectar feeder and is a “blossom nomad” and follows the flowering of native vegetation.
Flying Foxes have a preference for blossoms that consist of light coloured flowers arranged in bunches located on the periphery of the tree canopy. The flowers of most eucalypts, lilly pilly and melaleuca exhibit these characteristics. They also produce the most nectar and pollen at night. As they gather nectar, they also have deposits of pollen on their chests which they transfer to other trees. Flying foxes are the major pollinators of eucalyptus and rainforests. Preferred fruit is also in bunches, at the end of branches. A sweet musky odour is highly attractive, but colour is not important for the Grey Headed or Black Flying Fox. Urban bats also eat domestic fruit such as mulberries and mango.
The male flying fox does not begin breeding until around the age of 30 months.
The females commence breeding in the second year after their birth, and from then on most of the year is tied up with some part of their reproductive cycle, or caring for young. Females ovulate from February to April and give birth to a single young (occasionally twins) from October to December.
The Little Red Flying Fox breeds six months out of phase with the other flying foxes and gives birth between May to July.
How Can You Live In Harmony With Flying Foxes?
How can I stop flying foxes from making a mess when they eat fruit from my palm trees?
The easiest way to stop this is to remove the fruit from the palm trees or remove the palm tree itself. The fruit of the cocos palm can be toxic to flying foxes anyway. In South-east Queensland Cocos Palms are considered a pest.
We have a lot of gum trees and I don’t like the noise they make at night when they are feeding in the trees?
The blossom and nectar of gum and melaleucas trees makes up the natural diet of the flying fox. Gum trees only flower for a relatively short period of time so the noise shouldn’t last for too long. Remember that flying foxes are the chief pollinators of eucalypt and rainforests so it is important that they have access to their natural diet so that they can continue to pollinate our forests.
How can I stop them eating the fruit off our fruit trees?
Many people have learned to compromise with both birds and flying foxes. You can place paper bags over the low hanging fruit that you wish to keep for yourself; this will ensure that the flying foxes, birds and insects cannot gain access to this fruit. You can then leave the remainder of the fruit higher in the tree for the flying foxes and birds.
How can I correctly put netting from my fruit trees?
If you wish to put fruit netting over fruit trees, there are some very important considerations that you should note for the safety of both flying foxes and birds. Firstly it is important that you use good quality netting, if you can put your finger through the netting it is not wildlife friendly netting. Secondly, when installing the netting, drive some stakes into the ground, bend some PVC pipe over the fruit tree and then cover this frame with the netting. You MUST pull the netting taut and secure it well to the ground. If birds or flying foxes then land on the netting they have less chance of being coming entangled in it as they should be able to fly off the netting.
For more information on the correct method of installing fruit netting visit the EHP Website.
South-east Queensland is home to over 26 different species of Microbats, ranging from the tiny Little Forest Bat weighing 4 grams to the larger Yellow-bellied Sheathtail Bat which weighs up to 60 grams. Microbats are nocturnal and feed on insects, some species ingesting over 400 mosquitoes each per night.
The various species of Microbats live in different types of day time roosts. Some species are cave dwellers, some are tree hollow dwellers, many occupy rock and wood crevices and some even roost in disused bird nests.
Several species of Microbat are commonly encountered living in and around houses and urban areas. Often they are attracted to the insects that swarm towards lights and sometimes find themselves consequently trapped inside houses and buildings.
Why do Microbats sometimes needs rescuing?
Trapped in a house:
Microbats often follow insects attracted by lights into a house. If the bat is spotted quickly it can be encouraged to fly back outside by opening all windows, screens and doors and turning the lights off. Be sure to also turn all ceiling fans off as Microbats can easily be killed by them. If the bats cannot be encouraged outdoors or you believe the bat has been trapped inside for some time and may be dehydrated and weak.
Many Microbats each year are attacked, injured or killed by cats. During winter, in an effort to conserve valuable energy, Microbats often enter repetitive torpors (like mini hibernations) several times a day. While a bat is in torpor it cannot wake up quickly or fly away quickly and is much easier to catch by both domestic and feral cats. Keeping cats inside year round can help avoid interactions with Microbats and a host of other wildlife.
Trapped in Swimming Pools or other Containers of Water:
Bats often skim across water bodies to both glean insects and to collect water which they lick of their bodies. Unfortunately sometimes they do not undertake the glean successfully and come to rest upon the top of the water. If they do not have the ability to clamour onto something floating in the pool or climb out of the edge of the pool they often drown, ingest water or become waterlogged. By leaving a rope or other material draping into the pool that animals can climb out, drownings in many species of animal can be avoided.
Trapped on Fly Paper:
Insects caught on fly sticky paper can attract bats who can then in turn also become trapped. In addition to injuries associated with attempting to fly away, bats will also ingest significant amounts of the glue which is highly toxic and usually results in death. Microbats trapped on fly paper require urgent veterinary care. Using fly sticky paper should be avoided.
Despite the Microbats amazing ability to echolocate, they still commonly suffer collision injuries, particularly as a result of colliding with ceiling fans, moving cars and other moving objects. Collisions often result in considerable injuries and require urgent veterinary attention.
Tree Lopping and Roost Disturbance:
Microbats roost in a variety of different situations and places, and often their roost is accidentally or sometimes purposefully destroyed (an offence under the Nature Conservation Act 1992). In the case of tree lopping, all trees with suspected hollows should be examined by a Licensed Spotter Catcher immediately prior to the tree being lopped.
Where roosts are known to exist within houses, contact should be made with the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection to determine the best approach possible to deal with the problem. Translocation of roosts as a result of accidental or purposeful roost destruction, is an extremely complex activity with poor success rates and several factors (including the species, time of year, location and numbers) that influence the decision and outcome. Roost translocations or roost disturbance must be timed to avoid disturbance of maternity colonies in particular (September – March). Mass abandonment of young and large numbers of mortalities are realities of roost translocations that are done inappropriately and/or at the wrong time of year. Unfortunately many Microbat species do not take up the use of nest boxes during translocation events.
Each year during spring and summer, Microbat pups are born in South-east Queensland. The pups are required to attach immediately to mum and go with her during her nightly hunting and exploring. Sometimes the pups will accidentally fall off their mother or be separated from her for some reason. Further, many juvenile Microbats begin taking first flights during this time and sometimes get themselves into all sorts of trouble.
Caring for Bats
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer bat rehabilitator, you should contact WILDCARE or your local wildlife group.
They truly are remarkable and intelligent animals and many wildlife carers have found the experience of rescuing and caring for sick and injured bats to be one of the most rewarding jobs.
To learn more about bats, the different species we get in South-east Queensland and to find some fun kids activities visit www.allaboutbats.org.au.