Please do NOT touch any bat!  In South-east Queensland report all sick and injured bats to the Wildcare Hotline on 07 5527 2444 or the RSPCA Queensland on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625).

For more information on sick and injured bats – Click here

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.
  • The smallest bat in the world is the Bumble Bee 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 by their thumbs.

Microbat or Megabat?

Microbats are small bats with a wingspan of about 25cm and feed on insects such as mosquitos. Many microbats use echolocation to navigate in complete darkness with some species spending 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 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 called a “camp” or a “colony”.

Natural Behaviour

Camps

Flying foxes live in communal groups. They prefer 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 has 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.

Diet

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 prefer 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.

Reproduction

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 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.

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 eucalypts 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 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 600grams – 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.

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 to the camp.

If you find a flying fox hanging by itself in a tree or shrub during the day, you should report it to your local wildlife rescue 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 send a vaccinated rescuer 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.

Bats, including flying foxes, can carry the Australian Bat Lyssavirus. This disease can be transmitted to humans through a bite or scratch. In Queensland, if you are bitten or scratched, you must contact the Queensland Health Department on 13HEALTH (1343 2584) and they will provide direction to you. In some cases, the Health Department will organise for you to undergo a serious of vaccinations to protect you from any potential disease. All volunteer wildlife rescuers and carers 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 (megabats) come into care in South-east Queensland are: –

Trauma

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.

If the bat is laying on the ground, carefully place an upturned washing basket over the bat and call your local wildlife rescue group immediately. Injured bats are still often able to climb and will seek the protection of a tree. Keeping them contained under a basket or box will ensure that the wildlife rescuer will be able to secure them promptly upon their arrival.

Caught in fruit netting

Flying foxes are often 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. They can also suffer from serious injuries to their mouth because of trying to chew at the netting.

For bats caught in netting, please do not attempt to remove the bat yourself. Call your local wildlife rescue group who will send a vaccinated rescuer to safely remove the bat.

For more information on the correct method of installing fruit netting please do not hesitate to contact Wildcare or visit the wildlife friendly netting information page.

Caught on barbed-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 often time-consuming task to untangle a flying fox from a barbed 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 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 anaesthesia and the wire removed painlessly.

Flying foxes are commonly caught of barbed wire when it is in place within 20m or a flowing or fruiting plant, or where fences exist on ridgelines and across creeks and dams. Replacement of barbed wire with plain wires 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.

Tick Paralysis

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.

Dog Attack

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.

In this instance, please remove the dog from the area. If the bat is on the ground, please a large box or washing basket over the bat to keep it contained until a vaccinated wildlife rescuer attends.

If your dog appears to be injured from the altercation with the dog, we recommend that you speak with your veterinarian.

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 caught their feet 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 often electrocuted. Often, they die shortly thereafter from the electrocution but in some instances, they may 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 power lines and call your local wildlife rescue group if you suspect a live pup or adult flying fox is hanging from power lines. Never attempt to free the animal yourself.

Old Age

As flying foxes age, their teeth wear down and they are unable to eat adequately. They then become malnourished and weak which results in them being reported to a wildlife rescue group.

Orphaned Babies

During the birthing season, orphaned flying foxes come into care for a variety of reasons. Mother’s can become electrocuted but the baby survives or sometimes they may become separated from their baby for a variety of reasons. These orphans are then bought into care and raised by a team of dedicated volunteer wildlife carers.

How Can You Live In Harmony With Flying Foxes?

WILDCARE receives occasional calls from members of the public seeking advice in relation to issues involving flying foxes. Some of the more common calls that we receive include:-

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 in any event. In South-east Queensland, Cocos Palms are considered an invasive weed.

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 all wildlife species. Firstly, it is important that you use good quality netting, if you can put your finger through the netting it is not wildlife friendly. Secondly, when installing the netting, drive several 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 becoming entangled 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.

 

Microbats

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 Sheath-tail 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 daytime 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 if they were to hit it. 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, please call your local wildlife rescue group.

Cat Attack

Many microbats each year are attacked, injured or killed by cats. During winter, 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 or fly away quickly and is much easier to be caught by both domestic and feral cats. Keeping cats inside year-round can help avoid interactions with microbats and a host of other wildlife.

Microbats in outdoor umbrellas

Microbats will often take up residence in pool umbrellas.

During the summer months, the bats may be using the umbrella as a maternity colony and all efforts to disturb the bats should be avoided. Please contact your local wildlife rescue group who may be able to establish if the colony is a maternity colony with flightless baby bats present.

During the colder months, the bats are likely to be in a state of torpor.   If possible, leave the umbrella as it is and leave the bat undisturbed until the warmer months or until a time when the bats move on. Most bats will move on from the roost within a short time frame. If you are not able to do so, contact a bat rescuer who will contact the caller.

Once the bats have vacated the site (either on their own accord or through the assistance of a bat rescuer), the umbrella can be closed again but it must be covered with an umbrella bag (available at hardware stores) which should be tied securely at the bottom or some other form of cover which does not allow the bats to crawl back up inside.

Trapped in swimming pool or other water containers

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, inhale water or become water logged. In all water related events please call your local wildlife rescue group. By leaving a rope or other material draping into the pool that animals can climb out, drownings for 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 flypaper require urgent veterinary care. Using fly sticky paper should be avoided at all costs.

Collisions

Despite the microbats amazing ability to echolocate, they still commonly suffer collision injuries, particularly because 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 Licenced 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 (EHP) to determine the best approach possible to deal with the problem. Translocation of roosts because 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.

Orphaned Microbats

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. Wildcare Rehabilitators rear dozens of microbat pups each year which are later released back to the wild.

 

Caring for Bats

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer bat rehabilitator, you should contact your local wildlife group.

In South-east Queensland, there are several wildlife groups specifically dedicated to the rescue and care of bats.

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.