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Bats for Biodiversity is a group that supports each other in Community Bat Monitoring to increase awareness of bats in our environment.

Flying Foxes

By Lib Ruytenberg


Megabats, commonly known as flying foxes, are fruit and nectar eaters.
On the North Coast we have three types of flying foxes. The black flying fox and the grey headed flying fox are the largest and most common. The little red flying fox is smaller than the other two species and is more nomadic, usually only passing through our region in late Summer or Autumn according to the availability of flowering trees.

Flying foxes tend to live in colonies during the day and fly out as far as 30km at night to forage on fruit and blossom. Different colonies can be occupied at different times of the year, depending upon nearby food supply and maternity season. In our area, flying foxes may come in from Booyong, Ocean Shores, Coopers Shoot, Alstonville, Lismore, Ballina and other smaller, less frequently used camps.

Flying foxes are the only known pollinators of some rainforest species therefore have a vital role in our ecology, they keep native forests healthy.

Flying-foxes are very effective forest pollinators. Pollen sticks to their furry bodies as they make their way from tree to tree and flower to flower.

Because flying-foxes are very mobile and travel large distances , seeds can be moved both locally and further afield. Seeds that germinate away from the parent plant have been found to have a greater chance of surviving to maturity, enhancing the health of our forests.

Bats are the only flying mammals. They give birth to live young, usually in October-December. They suckle their young on teats, one located in each wingpit. Their young are carried in flight for the first 6 weeks or so, then the young are left in the colony at night while the adults fly out to forage. From about 11 weeks of age the young begin to fly and will go on nightly trips with the adults.

What can we do to help these vulnerable mammals?

Flying foxes usually come into WIRES care for the following reasons:

  1. Barbed wire. Every year WIRES is called to take dozens of flying foxes off barbed wire fences. The injuries can be so severe that the animal cannot survive. Sometimes they destroy their mouths in an attempt to untangle themselves from the wire. If the animal does survive it can mean weeks in intensive care with a carer to allow the injuries to heal. Usually the flying foxes get caught where the fence is next to a feed tree. Along the sections next to feed trees the top strand of barbed wire should be covered with sacking or slit agricultural polypipe. Wildlife carers will help you do this, if you give us a call. If you’re building a new fence, decide if barbed wire is really necessary, and if so, consider having plain wire on the top strand. If you have a barbed wire fence which no longer serves a purpose, consider having it removed.
  1. Fruit tree netting. WIRES is also regularly called to rescue flying foxes which have been entangled in netting. Black monofilament throwover netting is deadly to many types of animals. Fortunately a campaign by wildlife carers has just been won and hardware chains will not continue to sell it. They will stock a more animal friendly version. If you believe you must use netting to protect your fruit trees, make sure it is tightly pegged to the ground. Better still, don’t use netting at all.
  2. Electrocution. Unfortunately flying foxes sometimes become electrocuted on power lines. In almost all cases the animal is killed but if it is a female with a baby on board, the baby will probably survive if rescued. It will crawl around on its dead mother for days until it is either noticed and rescued or succumbs to the elements. So especially during the Spring and Summer months, if you see a flying fox on power lines, check for any signs of a pup moving on the body, and call WIRES. Sometimes baby flying foxes are left alone on power lines, although we are not sure why this happens. Country Energy workers have been brilliant in helping us retrieve the little orphaned pups from power lines.

 

 

  1. Cocos Palms. Although flying foxes can be attracted to feed on fruiting Cocos palms, the unripe fruit is not good for them and sometimes bats get their feet wedged in the fronds and have to be rescued.

Flying foxes are affected by habitat loss, as are most other species of native animal.
So all your plantings of native trees, such as eucalypts, are beneficial for flying foxes.

Images by:

Melanie Barsony- Robert Boness-Rhianna Blackthorn-

Lib Ruytenberg

 

February 2009

WEATHER AFFECTS FLYING FOXES

In late November flying-fox colonies in SE Qld (Canungra), Northern NSW (Lismore, Alstonville & Uki) and Central NSW (Blackbutt & Singleton) had significant numbers (100s) of dead baby flying-foxes and many other pups were found still alive, apparently abandoned by their mothers. Most of the casualties were grey-headed flying-foxes.

CAUSE

The cause of these deaths and abandoned young is not currently known, however it is apparent that many of the babies were significantly under their normal weights. There was a week of high winds and storms with heavy rainfall. This could have stripped the eucalypts of their blossom and nectar which is the main food of flying-foxes.

Whatever the cause, the bats must have been pushed beyond some critical threshold as it is very unusual for mothers to abandon their babies.

RESCUE & CARE

After a major rescue effort over a few weeks, carers up and down the east coast had many more flying fox pups in care than they usually would. The wildlife groups on the North Coast of NSW did not have enough bat carers to manage the number of young bats which came into care. Consequently dozens of young bats were transferred to carers further South, some as far away as Sydney.

For individual bat carers a great deal of time, love and, often expense was devoted to this rescue operation. The young bats have now been successfully raised by their human carers and during February they will be returned to the wild.

FLYING FOXES ARE A THREATENED SPECIES

The primary cause for the listing of flying foxes as threatened species is the loss of their habitat, coastal lowland forests.

This habitat is under sustained threat in particular from coastal development-we like to live where they do. Flying foxes play a key role in coastal forest ecology. As flying- foxes are the only flying mammal they are able to cross pollinate tall coastal forest trees. Gliders may also fulfil this role. Almost all hardwood species need flying foxes for pollination. The stigma in their flowers is receptive only at night, so the daytime pollen transfer by birds and bees does not fertilise the flowers. It has also been estimated that a single flying fox can disperse up to 60 000 seeds a night.

SO WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP

Written by Kristin den Exter & Lib Ruytenberg

• Become active in protecting existing habitat from development.
• Plant a habitat. Local native flowering & fruiting species can grow to produce in less than 3 years, and you’ll know you have made a personal difference to many native species living in your area.
• Keep your dogs and cats inside or enclosed, especially at night.
• Drive with care & awareness, especially at night.
• If you find an injured animal, ring the WIRES hotline Northern Rivers 66281898.
If it is an injured or abandoned bat PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH!
There is a very low risk of virus being transmitted from bats to humans but it is best not expose yourself unless you have been appropriately vaccinated. If you call WIRES, a vaccinated person will come to the rescue.
• Become a wildlife carer. WIRES has 3 training weekends every year. Call our hotline for further information.

Emergency information if bitten or scratched by a bat

If you find a Flying Fox or bat of any sort do not handle or attempt to rescue. Please call WIRES immediately because although Australian Bat Lyssavirus is very rare it can be transmitted by a bite or scratch from an infected bat, including a flying fox.

If a person is bitten or scratched they should wash the wound with soap and water for fve minutes and seek medical advice immediately.

Updated January 11, 2017  

Webmaster: Susanne Ulyatt

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