spectacled flying fox orphan

This orphaned Spectacled flying fox has unusual colourings.

Australian flying fox facts

There are links from this page for the 4 mainland species of Australian flying foxes. A good source of basic information can be found at the IUCN Red List pages for each of the species though some of it as regards distribution, population and conservation status are dated. Links to these pages are provided in the More Information section of the main tables for each species. We work mainly with Spectacled flying foxes so we have more first hand knowledge about them. Please contact us if you would like to contribute more information about the other species.

Flying foxes or Bats?

All flying foxes are bats but not all bats are flying foxes! Bats can be divided into 2 groups based on echolocation – microbats and megabats. They can also be divided based on genetics into yinptero-chiroptera and yango-chiroptera. Chiroptera is the Order to which all bats belong, it means hand-wing. (Chiro, like chiropractor means hand; ptero, like pterosaur, means wing).

Flying foxes are bats that do not use echolocation, have large eyes and eat fruit and nectar. They can be called bats, flying foxes, fruitbat, megabats or yinptero-chiroptera. Some prefer to avoid the term fruitbat as it doesn’t acknowledge that a huge part of their diet is nectar and pollen.

Extreme mobility of Australian flying foxes

All flying foxes are extremely mobile. This 2020 paper “Extreme mobility of the world’s largest flying mammals creates key challenges for management and conservation” provides some interesting results from three species of Australian flying foxes. The study analyses the Australia-wide movements of 201 satellite-tracked individuals for up to 5 years. This provided unprecedented detail on the inter-roost movements of these three flying-fox species: Black (P. alecto), Grey-headed (P. poliocephalus) and Little Red (P. scapulatus).

“Individuals were estimated to travel long distances annually among a network of 755 roosts (P. alecto, 1427–1887 km; P. poliocephalus, 2268–2564 km; and P. scapulatus, 3782–6073 km), but with little uniformity among their directions of travel. This indicates that flying-fox populations are composed of extremely mobile individuals that move nomadically and at species-specific rates. Individuals of all three species exhibited very low fidelity to roosts locally, resulting in very high estimated daily colony turnover rates.”

Tongue and roof of mouth of a Black flying fox, used to licking nectar and making spats.

Flying foxes are fruit and nectar bats

Commonly called fruit bats, though primarily nectar-feeders playing an essential role in the pollination of many different forest types especially Myrtacae species like eucalypts and melaleucas.  When eating fruit they are basically juice extractors, chewing their food into a bolus, then squeezing it against the roof of their mouth with their tongue to extract every last bit of juice. This is then spat out leaving their gut free of the bulk of the fibre, and lessening their weight for flight. Their gut must then extract the nutrients in the next half an hour or so before the waste is eliminated in their faeces.

Blue quondong fruit (Elaeocarpus grandis) showing the whole fruits and the spats from a Spectacled flying fox.

Photo above: Blue quandong fruit (Elaeocarpus grandis) showing the
whole fruits and the spats from a Spectacled flying fox.

Photo left: Note the ridges on the roof of the mouth, used against the tongue to extract juice from the fruit. Also note the tongue is designed to lick nectar from flowers.