Our region plays host to three species of flying foxes, the grey-headed, black and little red flying foxes. Due to their diet of predominantly fruit, nectar and pollen of native trees, they are often also known as fruit bats. Flying foxes belong to the group of megabats, the largest bats in the world and are distinct from the much smaller, insect-eating microbats.
Flying foxes play a vital role in maintaining the health of native forests including many commercially important timber species. As they routinely travel long distances flying foxes disperse pollen and seeds over much larger areas than most insects and birds are capable of, thus maintaining genetic diversity across the landscape.
Flying foxes may be host to Hendra Virus and the Australian Bat Lyssavirus. However, it is important to note that the risk of infection from a bat or flying fox is extremely low.
Queensland Health advises there is no evidence the virus can be passed directly from flying foxes to humans, from the environment to humans, or that it can become airborne. Hendra infection is only known to have been passed to humans by prolonged exposure to secretions from a sick horse, not directly from a flying fox. A vaccine is available to protect horses from becoming infected. See more at Qld Health.
Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV)
ABLV is related to the rabies virus, can be transmitted via the saliva of infected animals and can only be caught from untreated bites or scratches. People will NOT be exposed to Lyssavirus when flying‐foxes fly overhead, when they roost or feed in garden trees, or even from touching their droppings. As the animals usually avoid contact with people, scratches or bites usually only occur if someone handles an animal. If you find an injured or orphaned bat, do not touch it and contact the RSPCA on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625). Should you be bitten or scratched, wash the wound thoroughly and seek immediate medical assistance, effective post-exposure treatment is available. Less than 1% of flying foxes are infected with ABLV. See more at Qld Health.
Contact numbers when dealing with flying foxes
- Bat rescue - call RSPCA on 1300 264 625
- Bat scratches or bites on person - call Queensland Health on 13 43 25 84
- Health concerns (i.e. Hendra virus) - call Queensland Health on 13 43 25 84
- Suspected Hendra infection in horses - call Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23 (during business hours) or Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888 (24-hour hotline)
Living with flying foxes
All flying foxes are social animals and usually roost in communal camps during the day. These camps can sometimes contain as few as a dozen animals, but usually number in the hundreds or thousands and living close to such a camp can be challenging. The Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection provides information about flying foxes and their ecology and suggestions to help residents living close to flying fox colonies.
Flying foxes in backyards
Flying foxes are nocturnal animals that search for food at night and return to their roost colonies to sleep during the day. If you see or hear flying foxes at night, they are most likely temporary guests, feeding on the blossom or fruit of native trees. This doesn't mean they will establish a roost at that location and they will stop calling in when the food source is exhausted.
Number of flying foxes
More and more flying fox habitat is being cleared and urban development is encroaching on traditional flying fox campsites. As a consequence there may be more flying foxes in urban areas than in the past, which leads to the false perception that their numbers are increasing. In fact, flying fox populations have declined drastically since European settlement.
Flying foxes are protected
All species of flying fox are protected under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1994, and it is an offence to kill or injure them or to interfere with their roosts. The grey-headed flying fox is also listed as vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Cleanliness of flying foxes
Flying‐foxes are exceptionally clean animals and they invert or hang right side up to urinate and defecate in order to avoid soiling themselves. The smell emanating from flying fox colonies is derived from the scent used by male flying foxes to mark their territory.
Removing bat droppings
Bird droppings are actually more corrosive than flying‐fox faeces. Soaking the stain with a damp rag is the easiest way to remove it. Unless the paint is old or peeling, no permanent damage should result from a bat leaving its calling card.
Flying fox management in our region
Flying foxes are and will always remain an element of the environment in urban and rural areas of our region and it is important to balance the concerns of residents and the protection of flying foxes and their habitat. We developed a Regional Flying Fox Management Strategy and Statement of Management Intent (see strategy in 'Related documents') that outlines our approach to flying fox management. The management of flying foxes and their roost sites focuses on addressing lifestyle impacts experienced by residents caused by flying foxes in the immediate vicinity of their residences while enabling the conservation of and co-existence with flying foxes. To reduce the risk of spreading conflict to other areas, any management activities will be aimed at minimising interference with flying foxes and their roosts.
Under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992, Local Governments have an 'as-of-right' authority to manage flying fox roosts in defined urban areas. Management of flying fox roosts in other areas or by non-council entities require a permit from the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.
For further information you can download the Regional Flying Fox Management Strategy (see 'Related documents' below) or contact us on 131 872.
The three species of flying fox present in our region: (from left) black, grey-headed and little red flying foxes. Photos courtesy of Bruce Thomson.