You only have to watch a David Attenborough documentary to know how closely we are connected to our animal relatives. Megabats are no exception. Like us, they are mammals. And did you know that bat’s wings contain the same basic hand bones as humans, connected by thin membranes? Not so far apart after all…
Albury Wodonga is home to several species of megabats or flying-foxes. These are large fruit eating bats, specialising in fruit, nectar and pollen from a variety of native plants, and domestic fruit trees. Both the Grey-headed Flying-fox and the Little Red Flying-fox live here, sometimes together, with the Grey species notable for being the largest in the family.
Flying-foxes assist in pollinating and dispersing seed of flowering and fruiting trees, performing the unique service of night pollination, which many native species require. They are known as a ‘keystone’ species, on which whole ecosystems rely. Along with the pollinating insects, megabats are key drivers of biodiversity in our native bushlands and forests.
Unlike microbats, flying-foxes don’t echolocate, they use their keen eyesight and sense of smell to find fruiting and flowering trees. Nectar, blossoms and native fruits are their preferred food. They are very social and well known for forming large noisy camps and chatting loudly while they feed at night. Flying-foxes camped on the river at Albury have been known to feed on flowering eucalypts in Chiltern at night. They are adept at finding their favourite foods, and happy to travel!
Flying-foxes fly by night in search of food and return to the same trees each day to rest and chatter with their mates. Flying-foxes migrate along the East coast of Australia — moving in large ‘camps’ as different native fruits comes into season. Australia’s biggest bats fly thousands of kilometres a year—farther than wildebeest and caribou journey! When do they migrate from our region, and where do they go? Flying-foxes can’t sit still, complicating their conservation and management.
Both the Grey-headed flying-fox and Spectacled flying-fox have declined by at least 95% in the past century, with massive losses in the past 30 years. The Grey-headed Flying-fox is now listed as vulnerable in NSW and Victoria.
Like much of our native fauna, flying-foxes’ greatest threat is habitat loss, coupled with superstition and an unjustified bad attitude by us, their frequent neighbours. Over time their ancestral camp sites are being surrounded by urban development, where modern living, our casual engineering of our surrounds, folk tales and misinformation colour our view on these particular neighbours.
Along with the direct human intervention, climate change is already killing masses of megabats. Flying-foxes are particularly susceptible to the heat, and recent scorching summers have seen countless bats die from heat stress.
All bats need safe places to roost and an ample supply of food, provided by rich and diverse native vegetation. Parklands Landcare Led Bushfire Recovery ‘Bonegilla Bat Biodiversity’ project will secure habitat for the Grey-headed Flying-fox by fencing priority habitat corridors to exclude livestock, preparing them for planting in winter 2022 with native plants providing sustenance for this species.
The project is supported by the Australian Government’s Bushfire Recovery Program for Wildlife and their Habitat.