Little Red flying Foxes (Pteropus scapulatus)
Little Red flying foxes look like a smaller version of the 3 larger Australian flying foxes, but they are also very different.
- they have a much wider distribution, ranging much further inland
- they give birth at the opposite time of year
- they are more nomadic than the other three,
- they feed almost exclusively on nectar and pollen,
- they often hang in large clusters rather than singly like the other flying foxes. When in these clusters, their combined weight often causes severe though temporary damage to the roost trees.
- they often share camps with the other three Australian species, but they also often displace them especially when they arrives in large numbers. When this happens at Tolga Scrub the Spectacleds often move to another part of the Scrub, but at Cairns library they often caused all the Spectacleds to leave.
This species is especially dependent on climatic conditions that determine flowering and nectar production as it almost entirely feeds on nectar. There have been starvation events in recent years where significant numbers of young are found dead under the camp. We think that food shortages mean the mothers do not have enough milk and have to abandon their young. Large numbers of dead Little Red pups have also been found during cold snaps. Most Little Reds give birth in northern Australia where it’s warmer in winter but sometimes there are maternity camps in southern Queensland that are susceptible.
The main threats they face include:
- Climate change – heat stress events, abnormal weather events (severe hail, drought), changes in feeding habitat
- Habitat loss – both feeding and roosting – caused by human activity and weather events
- Entanglement in barbed wire fences. Every year we get large numbers caught during the windy conditions of September and October. The record is 109 caught in one day along one road.
- Negative public attitudes
- Dispersal of colonies
The habit of hanging closely together, damaging trees and arriving in sometimes huge numbers of 500,000+ has sometimes made them very unpopular, resulting in fierce community conflict eg Charters Towers. Queensland Department of Environment and Science with CSIRO and the local Council are trying an innovative approach by developing alternative habitat outside the town. They will try to relocate the animals there, not an easy feat. The other three Australian species can also arrive in large numbers but their numbers are rarely as large. Here is a rare example of a bat-friendly letter to the editor of a Sunshine newspaper, but note the numbers were only about 30,000. Letter to the editor about Little Reds
Iconic photos of Little Red flying foxes in northern Australia often shown them flying down over water to get a drink and fresh water crocodiles leaping up to grab one.
Photos this page: Jurgen Freund. Little Red flying foxes at Herberton during a mast flowering event.