Flying foxes (also called fruit bats) are members of a large group of mammals called bats. Bats are the only group of mammals capable of sustained flight. Flying foxes are nomadic mammals that travel across large areas of Australia feeding on native blossoms and fruits, spreading seeds and pollinating native plants.

Grey-headed Flying Fox

The grey-headed flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) is easily recognisable by its rusty reddish-coloured collar, grey head and hairy legs. Adults have an average wingspan up to 1 metre and can weigh up to 1 kilogram. It is also the most vulnerable species because it competes with humans for prime coastal habitat along the south-east Queensland, NSW and Victorian coasts.

Traditional grey-headed flying-fox habitat is located within 200km of the eastern coast of Australia, from Bundaberg in Queensland to Melbourne in Victoria.

Little Red Flying Fox

The little red flying-fox (Pteropus scapulatus) with a weight of 300–600 grams is the smallest Australian flying-fox and has reddish brown-coloured fur. Little reds will often fly much further inland than other flying-foxes.

Little-red flying-foxes are the most widespread species of megabat in Australia. They occupy a broad range of habitats found in northern and eastern Australia including Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.

Information For Rescuers

What should you do if you find an injured, sick or orphaned flying-fox?

NSW Health advises that the public should avoid direct contact with flying-foxes. There is always the possibility of being scratched or bitten and it leading to infection.

Scratched or bitten by a flying-fox?

Members of the community should not handle flying-foxes unless they have been trained, vaccinated against Australian Bat Lyssavirus and use the proper protective equipment.

If you are bitten or scratched by a flying-fox, the wound should immediately be washed gently but thoroughly with soap and water for at least 5 minutes, an antiseptic, such as povidone-iodine should be applied, and a doctor consulted as soon as possible.

Most common reasons for rescues

  1. Entanglement with nets used for fruit trees in gardens
  2. Entanglement with fence mesh & barbed wire.
  3. Heat exhaustion

What do they eat?

Flying-foxes feed on the nectar and pollen of native blossoms and fruits such as figs. Flying-foxes are beneficial to the health of vegetation, as they spread seeds and pollinate native plants.

Researchers speculate that flying-fox movements could be related to food scarcity, nectar flows or seasonal variations.

Disease – who is at risk?

Flying-fox camps in public places, such as parks, school grounds and residential areas, can sometimes raise concerns about possible health risks for community members. Concerns include flying-fox infections, noise, odour and the impact of flying-fox droppings on houses, cars, and washing.

Human infections with viruses borne by flying-foxes are very rare. In Australia at December 2016, there have been 3 confirmed cases of Australian Bat Lyssavirus in humans. All were in Queensland.

Threats from entanglement in netting – you can help!

Native animals, increasingly displaced from their natural habitat by tree clearing and extreme weather, are resorting to flowering and fruiting trees in our gardens.

Tree netting is a popular way to protect fruit from wildlife, particularly in urban areas, but the wrong type of netting can be deadly. Hungry animals are easily caught in ‘bird netting’, which has a mesh size greater than 1cm square.

The rescue statistics show that most animals die with horrific injuries or require long term care before release.

Our ‘finger test’ – choose netting that you cannot poke your finger through. For smaller trees up to 13m in circumference, we recommend Fruit Saver nets, available in 2 sizes.

The wrong type of netting – you can easily poke your finger through.

Fruit saver fruit tree nets

We recommend a densely woven net that will not trap wildlife and doesn’t need a frame, such as the Fruit Saver nets, Hail Guard or Vege Net. These nets are all white – the colour best seen by animals at night.

The fitted box-shaped net has a long skirt that gathers around the trunk of the tree.
The 2mm woven mesh excludes fruit fly and codling moth as well as birds, bats and possums. It has only a 15% shade factor and is currently best bought online at: www.fruittreenets.info

Living With Bats