Flying Foxes

Posted on March 9, 2012 By Rhianna Blackthorn

Bats are one of the largest groups of mammals in the world. There are around 950 species (of mega and micro chiroptera) and account for one fifth of the worlds mammal total (Churchill, 1998).


With wingspans up to one meter, they are the largest mammal to sustain flight (Hall et al., 2000). Although they live in large social groups within the forests canopy known as “camps”, flying foxes are known to be highly nomadic (Department of the Environment, 2010). They will move unpredictably, travelling several hundreds of kilometres in search of blossoms, nectar and fruits to fulfil dietary requirements. Despite popular misconception, flying foxes are unable to echolocate; they utilise their large well developed eyes for sight, even at night (Churchill, 1998).

Their preferred climate range is critical for their survival; temperatures above 40oC will often result in a mass disaster event as entire colonies die rapidly (24 – 48 hours) as a result of heat exhaustion (Hall et al., 2000). They produce one young (pup) a year in the early spring (in most species) period that remains dependant on its mother for up to 6 months (Churchill, 1998; Hall et al., 2000).

Four species are known to occur to be endemic to the Australian mainland with two having listing under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Department of Sustainability, 1999). The Grey Headed Flying Fox and the Spectacle Flying Fox have both been identified as vulnerable.

Ecological Services

Megachiroptera (flying foxes) are a recognised keynote (pivotal) species as a vital for pollinator and seed disperser for Australian woody species of plants. According to Hall and Richards (2000), “Several Australian studies have identified bats as major pollen vectors and responsible for the movement of genetic material form one tree to another”. Observations of flying foxes dietary characteristics suggests differing ecological roles amongst species (Hall et al., 2000). Some species, such as the threatened Grey Headed Flying Fox are generalists, feeding on a wide variety of blossoms and fruits. Others, however, such as the Bare Backed Flying Fox feed on a more limited dietary range, preferring the flowers of Eucalyptus and Corymbia. Black Flying Foxes (recently downgraded from threatened in New South Wales) and Little Red Flying Foxes feed primarily from the upper outer canopies while Spectacle Flying foxes do not display a preference.

Although flying foxes are extensively studied, further research into populations stability, niche requirements and ecological services is required to fully appreciate the role these animals may provide to our environment (Department of the Environment, 2010).

Public Perception

Public perception of flying foxes in Australia is at an all time low as habitat reduction lead to land use conflicts between society and bats. People living near camp sites complain of the smell, sound and sight of flying foxes and actively seek their removal (Clarence Valley Council, 2008; Clarence Valley Council et al., 2010; Department of Environment et al., 2009; Lismore City Council, 2007; Singleton Council, 2007). Public health concerns’ regarding flying foxes is increasing with misinformation regarding the bat’s role within the Hendra virus cycle  (CSIRO, 2011) continues in media. A lack of public education regarding Australian Bat Lysssavirus (ABL) (CSIRO, 2007) serves only to increase the stigma associated with bats and public health.

Education programs undertaken by all levels of government to try to change public perception regarding these animals is vital. Such measures may reduce the illegal mass killing of bats that increases pressure on species survival. Financial incentive plans for both agricultural and residential utilisation in addition to housing exclusion zones and eco-tourism developments may increase the attractiveness of the flying fox to society.

Determining Value

In order to value something, we must first be determined what it does, the demand for its services and its scarcity. Hall and Richards (2000) identified that flying foxes “may be the only speed dispersal agent for may rainforest trees, and therefore play an important role in the long-term survival of some tree species”. This ecological service helps secure declining biodiversity through a variety of services including habitat security. The filter effects of rainforest security will have far reaching effects on almost all biota such as slowing the rate of climate change.

The problem to economists is how to value these vital services performed by flying foxes. While their importance has been illustrated above, placing a value on such services could strengthen policy makers’ reservations in protecting them. Although policies exist, the administration and enforcement of such policies is lacking (Environmental Defenders Office, Unknown; Environmental Law Publishing, unknown) and numbers continue to decline.

The issue for economists, however, is abstract in origin; how does one place a value on such services? Individual perception varies. For example, an ecologist would place a high value on such services while the farmer whose existence relies on the crop he scratches from infertile drought stricken soils would value the ecological services bats provide as low in comparison. A lack of uniform understanding and direction forestalls solution and systems development. It is only when global consensus about such issues is reached that we may move forward to securing such services.


Churchill, S. (1998). Australian Bats (1st ed.). Sydney, New South Wales: New Holland Publishers.

Clarence Valley Council (2008). Section 90 License. Office of Environment and Heritage  Retrieved 30 June, 2011, from

Clarence Valley Council, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water , & Maclean Flying-fox Working Group. (2010). Final: Maclean Flying-fox Management Strategy. Coffs Harbour, NSW.

CSIRO. (2007). Australian bat lyssavirus.  Retrieved from

CSIRO. (2011). Hendra.  Retrieved from

Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, & Eby, P., Dr. (2009). Draft National Recovery Plan for the Grey-headed Flying-fox Pteropus poliocephalus.  Sydney, NSW: Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water Retrieved from

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Population and Community (1999). Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999). Department of Sustainability, Environment, Population and Community  Retrieved 24 April, from

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. (2010). Survey guidelines for Australia’s threatened bats: Guidelines for detecting bats listed as threatened under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.  Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia Retrieved from

Environmental Defenders Office (Unknown). More bat wins using Queensland Law  Retrieved 9 March, 2012, from,4.htm

Environmental Law Publishing (unknown). Yardley Case  Retrieved 9 March, 2012, from

Hall, L., & Richards, G. (2000). Flying Foxes: Fruit and Blossom Bats of Australia. Sydney, NSW: University of New South Wales Press Ltd.

Lismore City Council (2007). Section 91 License. Office of Environment and Heritage  Retrieved 30 June, 2011, from

Singleton Council (2007). Section 90 License. Office of Environment and Heritage  Retrieved 30 June 2011, 2011, from






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All native birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles are proteced under the Wildlife Act 1975, they may not be captured or harmed in any way without an authority issued under the Wildlife Act.