Beautiful photo of Spectacled flying fox, taken by John Thorsborne.

BIOLOGY AND ECOLOGY OF SPECTACLED FLYING FOXES

The table below provides a lot of information about the Spectacled flying fox (Pteropus conspicillatus). We have worked with this species since 1990 and know their behaviour on the Atherton Tablelands very well, particularly the Tolga Scrub. Tolga is the only permanent camp on the Atherton Tablelands and the most important maternity camp on the Tablelands. Large influxes of Little Red flying foxes arrive most years in September, often causing the Spectacleds to move to a different part of the Scrub.

The CSIRO team led by Dr David Westcott is contributing to what we know about  the biology and ecology of Spectacled flying foxes. Their tracking studies have shown that like all flying foxes they are highly mobile, albeit in a much smaller range.

DESCRIPTION Spectacled flying foxes are a beautiful large black flying fox with rings of usually pale fur (but can be anything from blonde to dark brown) around the eyes and across the back of the neck and shoulders.
DISTRIBUTION & HABITAT SFFs occur in the Wet Tropics from Cooktown to Ingham, and in smaller numbers further north into Cape York and the Torres Strait. Population numbers in New Guinea and Indonesia are not known. A list of all camps in the Wet Tropics can be found on the website of the The National Flying-fox Monitoring Program. Click on the triangles on the interactive map. They prefer to roost in the exposed branches of canopy trees.
DIET Previously described as a rainforest specialist, stable isotope studies by CSIRO showed that this only accounted for about 40% of their diet, the rest being 30% wet and dry sclerophyll (eucalypt), 10% wetland, 10% mangrove and 10% backyard or orchard fruit (pers comm David Westcott). They provide pollination and seed dispersal services to this wide range of ecosystems. Salt is an important part of their diet and is obtained by flying down to drink directly from salt water or chewing mangrove leaves.
MATING SEASON Mating occurs in the early part of the year with conception peaking March to April. At this time of year the males put on a lot of weight and defend their territory. We’ve had males come into care weighing up to 1200gms during mating season. They try to leave their branch/es only for short periods to feed. Males mark their territory with secretions from their scapular glands, and an oily red secretion is usually clearly seen around the neck.
BIRTHING SEASON Soon after mating, the colonies break into smaller groups close to food resources for winter, but come back into larger colonies in  spring ready for birthing. The pregnancy is 27 weeks long and so most pups are born between October and December. They are usually born with the head facing the mother. The mother can spend up to an hour once the head is out before pushing the pup out completely. By then she has cleaned up the face of the pup and it is usually fully alert to help get itself onto the breast.
LIFE HISTORY OF THE PUP TO JUVENILE AGE When the pup is born it cannot maintain its own body temperature and must remain on mum all the time, hanging on as she flies out at night to feed. The claws bed into her fur and the mouth is firmly on the nipple. By about 6 weeks of age the pup is too heavy to fly with and it is left in a creche in the roost with other pups. Here they become very active at night doing a lot of flapping and eventually short flights by 12 weeks of age. We have had mothers caught on barbed wire fences with pups up to 250 gms so it’s not that they can’t fly with the bigger pups, but it is hard work. Until now they have been completely dependent on their mother’s milk. As they gain strength for longer flights they learn to feed on suit and nectar, until they are fully weaned at 5-6 months age. They tend to hang with their own age group before fully joining the adult like of the camp in their third year.
POPULATION SFFs have shown about a 75% decline in the last 15 years, and in late November 2018 lost a further 25-30% of the population in a disastrous heat stress event. CSIRO counts have plotted this decline and some data can be found at The National Flying-fox Monitoring Program.
CONSERVATION See internal links  Spectacled Flying Fox Conservation, Flying Fox Conservation
MORE INFORMATION
Westcott, DA, Heersink, DK, McKeown, A, Caley P (2015) The status and trends of Australia’s EPBC-Listed flying-foxes. CSIRO, Australia.A comprehensive report by CSIRO on Spectacled flying foxes, can be found online here
Churchill, Sue (2008) Australian Bats. Out of print, this book is soon to be superseded by an expanded digital version
Hall, Les & Richards, Greg (2000) Flying Foxes and Fruit and Blossom Bats of Australia
2010 Current Recovery Plan
Column 1 Value 13 IUCN Red List