What you didn’t know about flying-foxes

Flying-foxes have co-evolved with the Australian landscape for over 40 million years, which means that they have developed important relationships with Australia’s native trees and with its people. This is why flying-foxes are considered by scientists to be a keystone species (one of the most important species in the ecosystem).

Habitat loss, development and removal of native vegetation puts stress on flying-fox populations. This can mean flying-foxes relocate to more urbanised areas to take advantage of alternative food supplies (e.g. backyard fruit trees and orchards), which can cause conflict between residents and the flying-fox.

Negative stereotypes and attitudes can have a detrimental impact on flying-fox conservation. Kyogle Council is working with the community to raise awareness and understanding of flying-foxes and their role in the environment in an effort to change people’s attitudes and help their protection and conservation.


Which species of flying-fox can be found in Kyogle?

Three species of flying-fox can be found in the Kyogle Local Government Area: Black Flying-fox, Grey-headed Flying-fox and Little Red Flying-fox.  All three species are native animals that are protected under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. The Grey-headed Flying-fox and Little Red Flying-fox are only found in Australia. The Grey-headed Flying-fox is listed as a species vulnerable to extinction as a result of declining numbers and habitat loss.

What is a flying-fox camp?

During the day, flying-foxes roost in groups known as camps, hanging upside down from the branches of trees. The Kyogle flying-fox camp is located along Fawcetts Creek from the Kyogle Recreation Reserve to the Kyogle Showgrounds at the northern edge of the Kyogle township. The flying-fox camp has been in this same location for over 50 years.

Some, flying-fox camps – like the camp in Kyogle – are occupied permanently, others seasonally and others irregularly. Based on monitoring undertaken by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), flying-fox numbers in the Kyogle camp fluctuate from less than 500 to up to 10,000.

What do flying-foxes eat?

While most bats in Australia have a diet that consists of insects, several species, including the flying-fox, feed primarily on flowers and fruits, which is why they are also known as fruit bats.

Flying-foxes are nocturnal feeders, so they roost in the day and forage for food during the night. Flying-foxes are highly adapted for night-time activity. They have large eyes for excellent night vision and a strong sense of smell, helping them to seek out fruit and nectar in native blossoms.

How do flying-foxes benefit our environment?

At night, flying-foxes disperse from camps to feed across extensive areas. They forage over much larger distances than birds or insects. Flying-foxes have been known to cover 500km between foraging sites, although foraging distances from the Kyogle camp are usually between 20km to 50km.

Their night-time foraging helps to pollinate plants and spread seeds ensuring the survival of our native plants and forests. They have an extensive diet that includes over 100 species of native flowering trees (eucalypts, melaleucas and banksias), fruit trees and vines. It is estimated that a single flying-fox has the ability to dispense up to 3,000 seeds in one night!  Flying-foxes can also carry pollen grains on their fur which is another means of pollination.

What is the cultural significance of flying-foxes to the Aboriginal people?

The local Gullibul, Githabul, Wahlubal and Banjalang people are the Traditional Custodians of the land and waters within the Kyogle Local Government Area.

The spiritual beliefs of Aboriginal peoples and their way of life are bound to the land, the sky and the sea.

Dreaming stories provide essential information for day-to-day survival, mapping camp sites, the location of water and places to gather food.

Bats are found in Dreamtime Stories going back 50,000 years. Where there were flying-foxes, there was food and water. The Rainbow and Flying-Fox Creation Story is an example of a Dreamtime story that highlights the cultural significance of the flying-fox to Aboriginal people.

Flying-foxes are recognised by Aboriginal people as essential for regeneration of forests. Often flying-fox dreaming paintings represent bat droppings as flowers to show this relationship.

Why are flying-foxes a threatened species?

As a result of habitat loss and removal of native vegetation, flying-foxes are resorting to looking for food in more urbanised areas, which puts them under increased threat from a number of human influences. Fruit tree netting, barbed wire entanglements, electrocution from powerlines, predation by domestic animals and extreme heat events are all key causes of many flying-fox injuries and deaths each year.

Flying-foxes actually have low birth rates so their numbers cannot recover as quickly as other species. Flying-foxes reach breeding maturity at the age of 2 or 3 and females only give birth to a single ‘pup’ who are dependent on their mother’s milk for up to 6 months.

Extended dry or wet periods can affect production of fruit and blossom and impact the flying-fox food supplies. As flying-foxes are so mobile, in times of food shortage they will migrate to other areas in search of food, causing their numbers to also fluctuate over time.