Flying fox

Flying Fox — they are nomadic mammals that travel across vast areas of Australia, feeding on native flowers and fruits, dispersing seeds, and pollinating native plants. Flying foxes have nothing to do with foxes, but are a group of bats with fox-like heads.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Flying Fox

Photo: Flying Fox

Flying Foxes (also called fruit bats) are members of a large group of mammals called bats. Bats — the only group of mammals capable of sustained flight.

Old World fruit flying foxes (family Pteropodidae) live in large groups and eat fruit. Therefore, they are potential pests and also cannot be imported into the United States. Like almost all Old World fruit bats, flying foxes use vision rather than echolocation to navigate.

Video: Flying fox

Among the best-known pteropodids is the flying fox (Pteropus), found on tropical islands from Madagascar to Australia and Indonesia. These are the largest of all bats. Some of the smallest members of the Family feed on the pollen and nectar of fruit trees.

Long-tongued flying foxes (Macroglossus), have a head and body length of about 6–7 cm (2.4–2.8 in), and the wingspan — about 25 cm (10 inches). Color varies among pteropods; some are red or yellow, some are striped or spotted, with the exception of bats (Rousettus).

Asian members of the Family include the various short-nosed flying foxes and short-nosed fruit flying foxes (Cynopterus). African members of the Family include the epaulette flying fox (Epomophorus), which the males have characteristic tufts of pale shoulder-length hair, and the hammerhead fruit flying fox (Hypsignathus monstrosus), which has a large, blunt muzzle and drooping lips.

Appearance and Features

Photo: What a flying fox looks like

Photo: What a flying fox looks like

Exists 3 types of flying foxes:

  • black flying fox;
  • gray-headed flying fox;
  • small red flying fox.

The black flying fox (Pteropus alecto) is almost completely black in color with a small, rusty red collar and a light silvery gray glaze on the belly. They have an average weight of 710 grams and are one of the largest bat species in the world. Their wingspan can be over 1 meter.

The grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) is easily recognizable by its rusty, reddish collar, gray head, and hairy legs. It is an endemic mammal and Australia's largest flying fox. Adults have an average wingspan of up to 1 meter and can weigh up to 1 kilogram.

It is also the most endangered species because it competes with humans for prime coastal habitat along southeast Queensland, New South Wales and Victorian coastlines. The grey-headed flying fox is the only flying fox species permanently present in South Australia and it is a nationally endangered species.

The little red flying fox (Pteropus scapulatus) weighing 300-600 grams is the smallest Australian flying fox and has a tawny coat color. Small red flying foxes often fly much deeper than others.

Where does the flying fox live?

Photo: Bat Fox

Photo: Bat Fox

Flying foxes can use most types of habitat that provide food, especially eucalyptus forests. Given the right flowering and fruiting trees, bats will not hesitate to fly into cities and towns, including the central business districts.

Interesting fact: Flying foxes are quite social animals that form huge roosts, sometimes many thousands. These are very noisy and smelly places where neighbors constantly quarrel over their small territories.

Large groups of fruit-eating grey-headed flying foxes, 28 cm high, are no longer rare sights in several Australian cities, including Melbourne. Over the past few decades, the expansion of new urban food sources and the development of rural bat homes have made cities their main residence. This migration has been a mixed blessing for the flying foxes, who face threats from urban infrastructure such as nets and barbed wire, as well as harassment from residents.

The black flying fox is common in coastal and coastal areas of northern Australia from Shark Bay in Western Australia to Lismore in New South Wales. It has also been found in New Guinea and Indonesia. The traditional habitat of the grey-headed flying fox is 200 km off the east coast of Australia, from Bundaberg in Queensland to Melbourne in Victoria. In 2010, many grey-headed flying foxes were found living in these traditional areas; some have been found as far inland as in Orange, and just as far southwest as in Adelaide.

Small red flying foxes are the most common species in Australia. They occupy a wide range of habitats in northern and eastern Australia, including Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria.

Now you know where the fox bat lives. Let's see what this fruit bat eats.

What does the flying fox eat?

Photo: Giant flying fox

Photo: Giant flying fox

Flying foxes are often considered pests of fruit gardeners. However, the truth is that they prefer their natural diet — nectar and pollen from flowering local trees, especially eucalyptus and fig trees, although local fruits and berries are also eaten. When forests are cleared, flying foxes lose their food source and are forced to turn to alternatives such as an orchard.

Grey-headed flying foxes — nocturnal harvesters of flowering and fruiting plants. They find these foods using their strong sense of smell and large eyes suitable for recognizing colors at night. The flying foxes return every night to the same resources until they are depleted. Their diet is varied, and they may feed on the remains of local vegetation as well as in urban areas. They may also use new resources, including the fruits of cultivated trees, especially when their preferred food resources are limited.

Fun fact: Grey-headed flying foxes prefer to feed within 20 kilometers of where they live, but can also travel up to 50 kilometers in search of food.

Flying foxes are good for health vegetation as they disperse seeds and pollinate native plants. The researchers suggest that flying fox migrations may be related to food shortages, nectar flows, or seasonal fluctuations.

These animals that eat fruits, flowers, nectar and roots — are key for plant pollination and seed dispersal. In fact, they can fly long distances — over 60 km in one night — bringing fruits (and seeds) with them, and even collecting seeds while flying. Fruits are unlikely to survive if their seeds cannot travel far enough from their mother plants, and so flying foxes ensure their distribution.

Characteristics and lifestyle

Photo: Flying fox in the Maldives

Photo: Flying fox in the Maldives

Flying foxes are increasingly moving to urban areas in search of food and shelter as a result of the loss of their natural habitat. This can sometimes be problematic for locals due to health and welfare concerns at the flying fox camp.

A familiar sight from much of eastern Australia, the grey-headed flying fox, or fruit bat, is usually seen at dusk, leaving their preferred roosting area in large groups and heading towards their favorite feeding grounds. Since the gray-headed flying fox is listed as an endangered species in New South Wales, a permit is required to move the foxes.

Fun Fact: The main smell associated with flying foxes, is the smell of male flying foxes used to mark their territory. Although this smell may be offensive to some people, it does not pose a health hazard.

Noise can become a problem when the flying fox's roosting site is located near residential and business areas or schools. When flying foxes are stressed or frightened, they make a lot more noise. Colonies tend to be noisiest when disturbed by humans, and quietest when left alone.

Flying foxes are active at night, traveling long distances in search of food. If your home is in the flight path of flying foxes, droppings may be affecting it. Droppings from many animals, including flying foxes, can end up on rooftops.

Social Structure and Reproduction

Photo: Flying Fox in Flight

Photo: Flying Fox in Flight

Flying foxes do not breed quickly. Female flying foxes become fertile at two or three years of age, and they usually have only one child each year. This makes it difficult to restore the population in the event of massacres. Bat camps are critical sites for mating, giving birth and raising young. Grey-headed flying foxes may mate throughout the year, but conception usually occurs between March and May, when the males are fertile.

Pregnancy lasts six months, and females give birth to one cub between September and November. The cub clings to the mother's belly and is kept for three to five weeks before being left in a bat-camp nursery at night. The mothers return to the camp just before dawn, locate their cub using unique signals and scents, and breastfeed it. Mothers wrap their wings around their young to protect them during the day and in cold temperatures.

The cubs are weaned from breast milk after about five months, and after some practice of flying around the camp, they fly out at night with the adults to feed on flowers and fruits. Juveniles learn to fly after about two months and become fully independent after the next month. Independent juveniles are prone to accidents and mortality rates are high during the first two years of life.

Flying foxes' natural enemies

Photo: Black flying fox

Photo: Black Flying Fox

There are many different predators that can cause problems for flying foxes. The size of different species affects what types of problems they can face with different predators. Some species of flying animals find the flying fox a tasty meal. They include owls and hawks. Owls can often be seen capturing bats while in flight. They can go unnoticed, and when flying foxes fly by, they are consumed without any warning.

Major predators of flying foxes:

  • owls;
  • hawks;
  • snakes;
  • spiders;
  • minks;
  • raccoons.

Snakes — a common predator of flying foxes that consume fruits. Snakes can easily blend into trees and plants where such fruits grow. These snakes can range in size from small to quite large. They tend to be more of a problem in warmer climates. Flying fox breeding sites usually have many problems with snakes.

In some places, raccoons and weasels have been identified as predators of flying foxes. They often hide in places where flying foxes sleep. They wait for them when entering or leaving this place. Spiders called tarantulas can also kill small flying fox species. Minks have also been identified as predators of flying foxes in some places.

In some areas where flying foxes live in trees, there have been reports of them being caught by domestic cats. They do not usually consume flying foxes, but they may kill them and even play with them. In fact, many people have discovered that they have flying foxes after their cat brought them home or was seen playing with one outside.

The biggest predator of flying foxes are humans. Most people are afraid of them and consider them dangerous rodents. The fact that a flying fox colony can grow very quickly is another cause for concern. The risk of spreading some kind of disease from bats also worries people. They hear about rabies and other possible health problems. People also worry about the effects of flying fox urine and faeces, so flying fox traps are often set up.

Population and species status

Photo: What a flying fox looks like

Photo: What a flying fox looks like

There are 65 flying fox species in the world, and about half of them are endangered. Flying foxes face threats from habitat loss and mass hunting for their meat or sport hunting. This situation is unfavorable for the island ecosystems and, ultimately, for the people who live there. Many fruit growers also believe that flying foxes are bad because mammals eat their fruit; therefore several governments approve of mass killings of flying foxes. In 2015 and 2016, on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, the government killed more than 40,000 flying foxes as part of a mass destruction campaign, although the native species, Pteropus niger, is considered vulnerable to extinction.

Outside the city, developers are removing the plants that the flying foxes feed on as rural areas are increasingly being converted to farmland and housing estates or cut down for woodpulp. If the destruction continues, the population will have fewer and fewer food options, making habitat destruction a major threat to the species.

Global warming is putting pressure on the flying fox population. On very hot days, flying foxes can die from heat stress, a condition they signal by sticking together and slowly sliding down tree trunks in a fluffy mass. If there is a heat wave in the spring and the children are still completely dependent on their mothers, this can kill the offspring for almost a whole year.

The national monitoring program for the hoary flying fox in Australia began on February 14, 2013 and takes place every three months. This is the largest census of grey-headed flying foxes ever conducted across the species' national range. The purpose of the census is to provide reliable monitoring of the current number of the flying fox population in 2013 and monitor trends in the population in the future.

Flying Fox Conservation

Photo: Red Book Flying Fox

Photo: Red Book Flying Fox

Some types of flying foxes, for example, the Mariana, giant, Mauritian, Comorian flying foxes, are listed in the Red Book. The plight of island flying foxes around the world requires effective, science-based conservation strategies to prevent further loss of the species' biodiversity and functionality.

To help flying foxes, you can plant fodder trees for them in your backyard. By doing this, you will attract these native mammals to your garden for up to four weeks while they feed on the flowers or fruit of the tree. The trees that flying foxes feed on include broadleaf lilies, banksia serrata, and various types of flowering eucalyptus. Protect your fruit trees without harming flying foxes. Don't try to protect a fruit tree from flying foxes by throwing a net on it. Hundreds of flying foxes and other native animals are injured or killed each year by becoming entangled in the loose mesh. Instead, attach the net to a specially built frame and stretch it like a trampoline. Alternatively, you can throw a shady fabric over the fruit tree.

Never use thin nylon mesh materials that can harm birds and other animals, as well as flying foxes, but use a strong knitted mesh with holes 40mm wide or less. Make sure the net is white and not green so the animals can see and avoid it. Any flying fox found alone during the daytime could be in trouble. She may be injured, sick or orphaned. In addition, flying foxes that are in trouble between late September and January may be females and have cubs. Therefore, it is important to act as soon as you spot an animal.

Do not touch the animal yourself, as it takes training and experience to deal with an injured flying fox. If the animal is on the ground, you can cover it with a cardboard box to restrict movement while waiting for the rescuer to arrive. An animal hanging low should not be disturbed and any pets and/or children should be kept away until the flying fox is rescued.

The flying fox is a protected species and if left alone, will not pose a danger to people and are unlikely to damage your garden. Nearly half of the fruit flying fox species are now critically endangered. Flying foxes face a variety of threats, including deforestation and invasive species, but the biggest one is being hunted by humans.

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