Feeding the flying foxes is of course a major part of our work. Fruit, leaves, protein and blossom are the main components of the diet.
Apples Apples are one of the mainstays for feeding the flying foxes. Cyclones anywhere down the coast of Queensland can close the main highways making it difficult to get apples through. We have a generator that can run the cold room at those times. Our busiest time of year with hundreds of extra orphan mouths to feed is unfortunately at the time of year when the new season apples have not yet begun, making prices high and availability short.
Bananas We have 2 banana farms that donate fruit they cannot sell. The bananas arrive green by the trailer load. We spray 50 – 100kgs at a time with ethrel to ripen them. This process works well for us as it leaves us in control of the ripening process. They take about 7 days to ripen, less if it’s hot weather. They are fed to the bats as banana smoothie as well as fresh bananas that can be licked from feeder baskets. Large cyclones occasionally severely damage many of the local banana farms, making supply very difficult.
Other Fortunately we live in a large agricultural area for bananas, but the apples need to come up from Stanthorpe about 2000 kms away. Other locally-grown fruits we obtain for the flying-foxes are watermelons, mangos, black sapote, rockmelon, mandarins etc
We rely heavily on our cold room to buy fruit in bulk and store safely. Cyclones have leave us without power for up to 2 weeks so we rely on a generator at these times.
We have 1000kgs of apples delivered every 4-12 weeks depending on how many flying-foxes are in care. They arrive in 5 hat bins at a business in town who unload them off the truck and onto our little trailer.
We park the 4WD on a slope, cut a wide U-shape in the side of the cardboard bin and roll the apples out of the bin into the crates that go into the cold room.
Photo(right): We need a slide when unloading the bottom bin!
Flying-foxes like to eat the leaves of a range of plants, particularly mulberry, fiddle wood, and tree lettuce. We grow them and hang whole branches about twice a week. Cos or romaine lettuce is also popular. We hear reports from the community of fiddlewood trees being stripped.
Photo (below right): Spectacled flying-foxes have been observed tearing sheets of paperbark from Melaleuca leucadendron trees. We don’t know what they are really ingesting, the bark or perhaps insects under the bark. It happens mainly towards the end of the year when the females are lactating. Grey-headed flying-foxes have been observed catching insects at the same time of year so perhaps it is for added protein.
Little Red flying foxes tear palm leaves to get lerps, a crystallized honeydew produced by larvae of psyllid bugs as a protective cover. Perhaps a source of protein as well as sugar.
Mulberry (Morus nigra) native to Iran
Fiddlewood (Citharexylum spinosum) native to the West Indies
Tree lettuce, the tall plant in the middle of the photo with long leaves
BLOSSOM AND PROTEIN
Nectar is a large part of the diet of Australia’s 3 largest flying foxes, while the Little Red flying-fox feeds almost exclusively on it. We are not always able to find blossom and of course it doesn’t always contain good amount of nectar. Plants of the Myrtacae family are their favourite especially eucalypt and melaleuca.
Flying-fox tongues have been designed to get nectar from blossom. We mimic this in captivity by giving them foods to lick – ripe bananas in suet feeders we import from USA or UK, and banana smoothie that has high protein powders.
We use Wombaroo High Protein powder with full cream milk powders in the banana smoothie. Sometimes we add yoghurt, honey, Ensure or other fruits. Most bat carers chop fruit and add the high protein powder on top, but we prefer to hang the fruit on wires and put the protein into a smoothie. We are very lucky to get large quantities of free bananas.
We make concentrate banana smoothie that then goes into the freezer. This is made with high protein powders and bananas only, adding water and Ensure when in use.
Myrtacae family blossom, paperbark (Melaleuca leucadendron)