This bat is a mega important flying mammal

Wednesday 8 May, 2024
The Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority is celebrating birds and bats in 2024 with the Year of the Wing community awareness campaign. This month, megabats are featured.

Flying foxes, also known as fruit bats, are megabat mammals. They first appeared in the fossil record about 50 million years ago and it’s thought they evolved as night-active to take advantage of the ‘empty airspace’ left by the day-active birds. 

Although called flying foxes, other than being a mammal, megabats are not related to foxes - their name comes from their “foxy” facial features. Unlike microbats that use reflected sound to seek out their insect prey, megabats rely upon their large eyes and keen nose to seek food at night.

Goulburn Broken CMA project officer, Janice Mentiplay-Smith, said the Goulburn Broken catchment was home to two species of flying fox: the threatened Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) and the Little Red Flying-fox (Pteropus scapulatus).

The Grey-headed Flying-fox is one of the largest bats in the world, weighing up to a kilogram with a wingspan of up to a metre. 

“Bats are the only mammals capable of sustained flight; they are amazing ‘mammals of the air’, and play a very important role in the ecosystem,” Ms Mentiplay-Smith said.

“We usually think of birds and bees pollinating our plants however flying foxes are major pollinators of eucalypts; without them the composition of Australia’s forests would be very different.

“Flying foxes travel up to 80 kilometres each night to feed. During the process of feeding, they transfer pollen from tree to tree which spreads the gene pool and enhances the tree’s capability to survive.

“Because they are integral to seed dispersal and pollination, the rapid decline in flying fox populations is very concerning as this will affect the long-term survival of our unique eucalypt forest and rainforest ecosystems.” 

Roosting above water helps flying foxes remain cool in the summer heat. Grey-headed Flying-foxes roost in camps around swamps, woodlands, patches of rainforest and along creeks. The availability of food influences where they live and move to. If the food source is stable, they will remain at a site for a prolonged time.

Ms Mentiplay-Smith said habitat loss was a major threat to flying foxes.

“When their natural habitat is destroyed, they are forced to seek a home where they can. This means they tend to crowd into confined urban areas and gardens, which can be unpopular with the human residents,” she said.

“Threats to Grey-headed Flying-foxes and similar megabat species include habitat destruction, heat stress and disturbance by people and pets at roost sites.

“Barbed wire is deadly for a flying-fox. Once caught on a barbed wire fence, it generally cannot escape and suffers a prolonged death. Should it manage to free itself, its torn wing membranes renders it unable to fly, meaning it cannot feed and escape predators.

“Similarly, ‘wildlife unfriendly’ fruit tree netting results in entanglement, injuries and death for the flying fox. Use fruit tree netting with a mesh size of less than 5mm (that you cannot poke a finger through) and make sure it’s taut and secured firmly to the ground. Try to purchase white netting only, as this is more visible to animals at night.”

For more information visit Australasian Bat Society www.ausbats.org.au and The Mammal Book - GB CMA - Goulburn Broken CMA

Grey-headed Flying-fox 

Grey-headed Flying-fox roosting colony

Little Red Flying-fox

The Goulburn Broken CMA acknowledges and respects First Nations people and the deep connection they have with their land and waters.

We acknowledge the Yorta Yorta and Taungurung people and their ancestors/forbears as Traditional Owners of the land and waters in the Goulburn Broken Catchment (and beyond). We value our ongoing partnerships with Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation and Taungurung Land and Waters Council for the health of Country and its people.

We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging and acknowledge and recognise the primacy of Traditional Owners obligations, rights and responsibilities to use and care for their traditional lands and waters.

168 Welsford Street, PO Box 1752, Shepparton VIC 3630
T (03) 5822 7700
F (03) 5831 6254

89 Sydney Road, PO Box 124, Benalla VIC 3672
T (03) 5822 7700

Shop 5/10 High Street, Yea VIC 3717
T (03) 5822 7700

Back to top