Flying-foxes

Flying-foxes are the largest flying mammals in the world, are nocturnal and are native to Australia. They are important to the environment as they support biodiversity and play an integral role in the reproduction, regeneration and dispersal of plants across the landscape.

In Brisbane, there are three species of flying-fox that are protected under Queensland’s Nature Conservation Act 1992 including the:

Black flying-fox

The black flying-fox inhabit coastal from northern Queensland through to Western Queensland. They are:

  • jet black in colour with black membranous wings with - some individuals having a rufous (reddish-brown)/orange collar across their shoulders
  • can be distinguished from grey-headed flying-foxes by their leg fur which only reaches to the knee
  • mate in March to April and females give birth in September to December
  • in a mixed camp they often roost at the top of the trees on the periphery and are quick to warn inhabitants of intruders
  • dominate a majority of bat camps in Brisbane.

Little red flying-fox

The little red flying-fox is a migratory species that visit Brisbane periodically from October to April to follow their favourite local flower foods. They are the smallest of the local flying-fox species and:

  • have reddish-brown fur, dark grey face and brown semi-translucent wings
  • are nectar feeders, following the flowering native trees across the Australian landscape
  • roost in any available habitat, but also join existing flying-fox camps, significantly increasing numbers overnight
  • roost lower in the trees and form large clumps or clusters.

Grey-headed flying-fox

The grey-headed flying-fox is afforded additional protection because of its declining numbers, and being endemic to Australia, occuring in the coastal belt from Rockhampton through to Melbourne. These flying-foxes:

  • are the largest of the flying-fox species
  • are easily recognised by their dark grey to black body fur with a rufous (reddish-brown) mantle and light grey to blonde face with chocolate brown wings
  • are the only flying-fox with fully furred legs to the ankle
  • mate between March to April with a single young born between September to December
  • generally roost in camps with black flying-foxes and are easily recognised by their size and their preference for roosting at the top of the trees.

Habitat

During the day, flying-foxes congregate and rest in groups known as roosts or camps that they also use to raise their young. In some instances the population of a camp may comprise of thousands of individuals. Some camps are occupied permanently, some seasonally and others irregularly such as every few years when a large flowering occurs nearby. Historically the typical flying-fox camp is found in mangroves, swamps, rainforest or open forest, beside creeks or another type of waterway. Now-a-days, flying-fox camps can be found in or next to urban areas. Brisbane has in excess of 20 permanent flying-fox camps with most adjacent to waterways in urban areas.

At night, flying-foxes leave their roost in search of fruit, nectar and blossom. In the process, they pollinate flowers and disperse seeds. They may fly up to 100 km at night.

Problems caused by flying-foxes

In some instances, more than one species will be present in a single roost site and consideration must be given to the mix of species at the location. In addition, the population and species mix of a colony may vary significantly at any given time. Breeding seasons and changes to food availability are also key influences on the movement and roost populations.

The activities of flying-foxes sometimes bring them into conflict with residents. Primary concerns include noise, odour, droppings, feeding on fruit trees and orchards, human health and disease.

When at a roost or feeding, flying-foxes ‘squabble’ loudly. This mixture of screeches and cackles is actually communication and allows them to establish their personal roost sites or feeding territories, ward off rivals, stay in touch with their offspring, and warn others of possible threats.

Disease

A small percentage of flying-foxes can be carriers of disease.

The Hendra virus cannot be transmitted from flying-foxes directly to dogs or humans.

The Australian Bat Lyssavirus, which is only present in less than 1% of the population, requires bat saliva coming in contact with a person’s mucus membranes.   

These diseases can only be transmitted through bites or scratches by infected animals. Brisbane City Council does not recommend that these animals, or any wildlife, are handled.

It should be noted, that there is no risk of viral transfer through contact with flying-fox faeces.

What Council is doing

Council is monitoring the number of flying-foxes at roosts across Brisbane.

Brisbane City Council's Statement of Management Intent outlines actions to reduce direct and indirect impacts of flying-fox camps on public land, residents and park users.

Management actions will consider the level of impact to residents and the community, the cost of any measures to reduce impacts, and the likely success of any proposed action.

Download the document:

Council also has Wildlife Conservation Action Statement for flying-foxes.

What you can do

If you live in close proximity to a large number of flying-foxes:

  • do no leave washing out at night - bring it in before dusk
  • cover your vehicles
  • cover or place outdoor furniture undercover at night
  • do not disturb the flying-fox as this just increases their noise level - they are quiet when left alone
  • use a pool cover at night.

If noise is an issue, consider the installation of double-glazed windows in the bedroom, and the use of a fan or music to distract attention from the sound when it is causing disturbance.

If you see a sick, injured, distressed or orphaned flying-fox please contact the RSPCA on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625) or your local wildlife carer. Please do not attempt to catch or handle them as this may lead to injury to yourself or added stress to the animal.

More information

For information on how to manage the risk of Hendra virus, horse owners should refer to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries website.

Last updated:10 May 2019