The Echo
Getting up close with Grey-headed flying foxes

The Echo

Getting up close with Grey-headed flying foxes

Published on January 11, 2017
Written by Micaela Jemison


Bats are a familiar sight in many regions of Australia, including many of our major cities. We are lucky to have several species of flying fox across Australia, bats of the genus Pteropus, which are some of the largest bats in the world. These bats feed exclusively on nectar, blossoms, pollen and fruit, providing invaluable pollination and seed dispersal services to many native trees, including commercially important hardwood and rainforest species, such as native figs.

 

Grey-headed flying-fox
Grey-headed flying-fox, Pteropus poliocephalus
Credit: Vivien Jones

I have been lucky enough to work with grey-headed flying foxes in the past and couldn’t resist a trip to a local colony when I returned to Melbourne last December. In summer, Melbourne is home to a colony of more than 30,000 located near the center of the city. They love to camp near water, such as lakes or, in this case, the local Yarra River. The mothers give birth usually to a single pup in October and nurse them for three to four months. Once they are three weeks old the young are left at a crèche in the center of the camp at night while their mothers fly out to feed. The mothers were still nursing young when I visited the camp, cradling them in their wings. Grey-headed flying foxes can travel up to 30 miles (a 60 mile round trip) each night in search of native nectar, blossom and fruit.

You will notice the large eyes these bats have. All flying fox species have a very well-developed sense of smell and eyesight. Unlike other bats they do not possess echolocation, a feature which helps the other bat species locate and catch prey such as insects in midair. So, you can see, that old wives’ tale “blind as a bat” just isn’t true!

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