Flying Foxes & Microbats

There are two types of bats—the flying-foxes, which are all fruit and nectar feeders and their microbat relatives, insectivorous bats, both are nocturnal and sadly declining in numbers due to habitat loss. The two types of bats appear to have evolved separately, making them distinct groups of mammals.

All bats hang upside down.

The body modifications that enable bats to fly mean that bats can no longer stand on their hind legs. They have a small pelvis, and their legs as well as arms are altered to form wings. However, bats also have special tendons in their feet that cling to objects, allowing them to hang upside down without any effort. This is the reason why you sometimes see bats hanging on ceilings or wires long after they have died. However when they need to go to the toilet, or when giving birth they hang the “right way up” by their thumbs.

Flying-foxes range in size from the tiny blossom-bats that could fit in the palm of a human hand, through to the more familiar flying-foxes ‘fruit bats’, which can have a wingspan of more than a metre. They rely on well-developed vision to see at night and their highly developed memories, allows flying-foxes to easily find previously-visited feeding sites. Flying-foxes are Australia’s largest flying mammal and fossils show that flying-foxes have been a part of the night sky for more than 35 million years.

Flying foxes are a keystone species, which means that they are vital to our environment, without them, entire ecosystems could collapse. Unlike other pollinators like bees and birds, flying-foxes can transport pollen over vast distances and are also able to disperse larger seeds. They are the only species that pollinate trees at night — when most Australian trees need to be pollinated.

In particular they are critical for the survival of Australia’s Eucalypt forests dispersing seeds of over 50 native trees as well as pollinating flowering plants of the Australian bush. Their diet is nectar, pollen and fruit obtained at night when native tree flowers produce most of their nectar. Because flying-foxes are highly mobile, seeds can be moved locally and over great distances as they fly 30-40 kilometres from their camps each evening, and 100’s of kilometres between camps, carrying genetic material such as seed and pollen to other forests and trees, the cross pollination is valuable to our forests and ecosystems ensuring a healthy flow of new genes.