3rd Dec

Flying Foxes – Important to our forests

Flying Foxes – Important to our forests

There are 4 species of Flying foxes along the east coast of Australia with their main diet being pollen, nectar and fruit. They are the main pollinator of hardwood forests as well as rainforest and with a range of 50km they are also a valuable spreader of seed. One species, the Grey Headed Flying Fox is listed as a threatened species mainly due to slow reproduction rates, slow sexual maturity of males and high infant mortality rate.

Flying foxes give birth in spring, upside down which is amazing in itself. The baby must crawl up under the wing and attach itself to the mothers’ nipple and hang on. The babies cannot thermo regulate so must stay attached to the mother for the first 3 -4 weeks of life. Mothers carry the baby everywhere during those first weeks, infants are at high risk of falling off if the mother does not feed well and the milk and baby are weak. When the babies get too heavy to carry they are left at camp in crèches while the mother feeds and are fed upon her return. They are quite venerable to predation at this time mainly by snakes and as at this stage they are unable to fly a bushfire can be devastating to a colony.

These animals are nomadic and follow the flowering and fruiting of their natural foods. They feed close to where they roost, mostly within 5 to 15k km from the campsite but up to 50km (100km round trip) in search of native foods. When a productive food source is found, individuals establish and defend their feeding territory, returning night after night to the same trees for up to a month or more or until the food source is depleted. Feeding groups vary from single individuals up to half a dozen or more in a single tree. Flying-foxes prefer blossom, nectar, fruit and occasionally leaves of native plants, particularly eucalypts, tea-trees, grevilleas, figs and lilly pillys. They will also take the fruit of cultivated trees, particularly during periods of shortage of their preferred food.

They spend most of the day sleeping in camps and feed at night flying out all at once between sundown and moonrise depending on distance to the current food source. They are very social and can be noisy in camp having over 30 different calls. Adults can weigh up to one kilogram and have a wing span of more than a metre. Flying-foxes have large eyes which are highly adapted for day and night vision and particularly suited to recognizing colours at night. Colour recognition is important when searching for food.

The wings are a very soft membrane that can be damaged by tearing both naturally on branches and more horribly by ensnarement in barbed wire and fruit tree netting. In most cases if rescue is quick and damage is not to the bone flying foxes can recover from these injuries.  Please call your local wildlife rescue if an animal is seen in any bad situation, there are many dedicated volunteers who will respond to these situations. Do not attempt to remove the animal as they can carry a virus and if bitten transfer of this to humans is possible.

Local wildlife rescue groups:

www.wiresnr.org/Flyingfoxes http://www.wildlifecarers.com/

Sean (about the author)
Sean is a web designer from Brisbane, Australia
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