Flying Fox

Last updated: January 24, 2013

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flying fox

Biology

Flying foxes are mammals and are members of the Pteropididae family. There are four types of flying foxes which are native to mainland Australia; black, grey-headed, little red and spectacled flying foxes. All of these except for the Spectacled Flying fox can be found around Brisbane and its surrounding suburbs. Flying foxes live in large colonies or camps.

Flying foxes are placental mammals, giving birth to live young. They normally give birth to a single pup sometime between late September and early December. For the first three weeks the baby clings to the mother’s belly. After three weeks when the baby is too heavy to carry, the young are left at a ‘creche’ in the centre of the camp while the mother flies off at night in search of food. The mothers will return back at camp before dawn and can distinguish their young by their smell.

flying foxCommunication

Flying foxes use sound as a method of communication. They have similar hearing to humans which makes their calls clearly perceptible to our ears. There have been over 30 different types of calls recorded. When flying foxes make the most noise is at dawn and dusk when they are flying in and out of the camp. When flying foxes are heard at night feeding in the trees it indicates the defence of a feeding territory. Vocalization between individuals is essential for identification (i.e. mother and baby or male and female) and also to defend territories. If calls are heard during the day it is probably a response to a disturbance such as a stray dog, chain saw or some other load noise.

Flying foxes are very clean animals despite their odors, each day several hours are spent grooming. Their distinct smell helps flying foxes identify each other and communicate things. Males secrete a scent from their scapular gland to mark their territory and to attract females during mating season. Young animals produce a scent to enable the mothers to identify them when returning to camp. Flying foxes have an efficient digestive system which passes food within 15-30 minutes. This allows them to remain light enough to sustain flight. Flying foxes play an important ecological role in dispersing the pollen and fruit of many native trees. They can sometimes fly up to 100km in a night so they largely contribute to the conservation of many forest species.

To avoid common conflict

Flying foxes and humans share their homes as they both like to live near water. This can cause several common conflicts. For the humans, flying foxes can generate both noise and smell and for the flying foxes, car collisions, power lines and the use of fruit tree netting and barbed wire can have serious consequences.

Flying foxes mainly defecate away from their camps in their feeding areas so it’s best to bring your washing in before dusk and cover your car to avoid staining from any droppings. Flying fox droppings are called guano. Guano can be easily removed with water. Guano does not pose a serious health hazard and in swimming pools it is neutralised by chlorination.

In urban environments, flying foxes face many hazards, including fruit tree netting, barbed wire and power lines.

Netting

Loose netting is responsible for hundreds of deaths and injuries to flying foxes and other wildlife species yearly. It traps animals, cutting off their circulation, causing bruising, broken bones and deep wounds. Even animals rescued before death are often severely injured and have to be euthanased. Ideally, netting must be tightly secured over fruit trees and enclosed all the way to the ground, a frame is the preferred netting option. This will enable flying foxes to ‘bounce off’ the netting if they land on it. Remember that nocturnal animals cannot see dark colours so netting should be white or other light colours. Another way to deter wildlife from fruit trees is to tie paper bags over the fruit you can reach and leave the fruit you can’t reach for the wildlife. The fruit will still ripen inside the bags.

flying fox caught in barbed wire fence

Barbed wire

Barbed wire is dangerous to many animals including flying foxes. Flying foxes use their vision rather than echolocation which the microbats use. They do have excellent night vision except when it comes to barbed wire. Bats often get caught by their wings and in desperation will try and bite themselves off the barbs. This can cause severe damage to the roof of the mouth, teeth and jaw. The wings often get badly twisted as the bat gets spun around on impact or by struggling to free itself. Damage to the wings can consist of tearing, bruising, death of tissue and inflammation. Bones can also be broken or exposed if the wings are caught or torn and the flying fox continues to struggle. Some councils have banned the use of barbed wire so if you are fencing it worth considering alternatives to barbed wire.

Wildlife friendly fencing link- www.wildlifefriendlyfencing.com/

Powerlines

If you see a flying fox on a powerline even if it looks dead there could be a live baby hiding under a wing. In this situation the best thing to do is to write down the pole numbers on the poles where the wire is attached and contact Energex. This will help Energex locate the appropriate wires and turn the power off so the animal can be removed safely.

Vehicle collisions

  • Be wildlife aware when driving
  • Be even more observant at dusk and dawn
  • Keep to the speed limit and the conditions of the road
  • If you are a passenger, don’t distract the driver
  • If you see an animal on the road don’t assume it will be able to get out of the way in time Lift your foot off the accelerator, apply brake
  • Rest, Revive, Survive
  • In the event of a collision stop for injured wildlife and take the animal to the nearest vet
  • Call 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625) for assistance.

If you find an injured flying fox, do not touch it, and keep domestic pets away. A very small percentage of bats can carry the Australian Bat Lyssavirus which can only be transmitted to humans through a bite or deep scratch. Any wild animal which is injured can be defensive, so it is essential that you seek help from a specialised wildlife service which has vaccinated and trained rescuers.

Establish ecosystems that flying foxes can live and thrive in. Flying foxes eat blossoms, nectar, fruit and occasionally leaves of native trees. Their favorite trees are eucalypts, lilly pillys, figs, grevilleas and tea trees.

Gardens that attract Flying Foxes

To attract flying foxes to your garden, provide plenty of native trees and shrubs such as grevillias, lilly pillys, and eucalypts. Fruit trees will also attract hungry animals.

Efforts to rehabilitate injured flying foxes

Flying foxes which have been in care for up to four weeks can be hard released (unsupported). Hard release is simply letting the animal go again at the closest colony to where it was found. Animals in care for longer than four weeks need to be soft released (supported). Soft release is releasing the animal from the cage which it has been rehabilitated in. The rehabilitation cage needs to be close to a colony so when release time comes they are not forced to fly large distances. When the animal is ready to be released you open the cage doors and cont

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