Flying-foxes

Flying-foxes are large bats that feed on plant products such as fruit, flowers, pollen and nectar. They generally congregate in camps made up of large numbers of individuals, but some also roost singly or in small groups. Camps can be found in a range of vegetation types, usually close to water in an area with a dense understorey.

Flying-foxes are highly mobile, ranging up to 40 km from their camps at night to feed. They also move up to hundreds of kilometres to follow the flowering and fruiting of food sources.

Flying-foxes play a vital role in keeping our ecosystems in good health. They pollinate flowers and disperse seeds as they forage on the nectar and pollen of eucalypts, melaleucas and banksias and on the fruits of rainforest trees and vines. Flying-foxes are important in ensuring the survival of our threatened rainforests such as the Wet Tropics and Gondwana Rainforests, both listed as World Heritage sites.

Seven species of flying-fox are found in Australia. Information on the status and distribution of these flying-foxes is shown in the table below.

Status and distribution of Australian flying-foxes
Name National status
(EPBC Act)
State status IUCN status Distribution
Grey-headed Flying-fox
(Pteropus poliocephalus)
Vulnerable Vulnerable (NSW);
Vulnerable (Victoria);
Least Concern (Queensland)
Vulnerable Australia's only endemic flying-fox species. Occurs in the coastal belt from Rockhampton in central Queensland to Adelaide in South Australia.
Spectacled Flying fox
(Pteropus conspicillatus subsp. conspicillatus)
Vulnerable   Least concern Restricted to tropical rainforest areas between Ingham and Cooktown, and between the McIlwraith and Iron Ranges of Cape York.

Christmas Island Flying-fox
(Pteropus melanotus subsp. natalis)

Critically Endangered   Vulnerable Restricted to Christmas Island

Black Flying-fox
(Pteropus alecto subsp. gouldii)

Not listed Least Concern (Northern Territory) Least concern Occur around the northern coast of Australia (Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland and northern NSW) and inland wherever permanent water is found in rivers.
Little Red Flying-fox
(Pteropus scapulatus)
Not listed Least Concern (Queensland) Least concern From Shark Bay in WA through northern Australia, and down the east coast to northern Victoria, ranging far inland (the species has been recorded in northern South Australia on two occasions).
Large-eared Flying-fox
(Pteropus macrotis subsp. epularius)
Not listed   Least concern The only known location of this species in Australia is a mangrove island beside Boigu Island, and Saibai Island (both within a few kilometres of the New Guinea coast).

Bare-backed Fruit Bat
(Dobsonia magna subspp. moluccensis)

Not listed Near threatened (Queensland) Not listed Most of north, north-central and east Cape York.

Sources:

  • Hall, L. & G. Richards (2000). Flying foxes: Fruit and Blosson Bats of Australia. Sydney, NSW: University of NSW.
  • Van Dyck, S. & R. Strahan (2008). The Mammals of Australia, Third Edition. Sydney: Reed New Holland.

Why are some flying-foxes nationally protected?

The Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus), Spectacled Flying-fox (Pteropus conspicillatus subsp. conspicillatus) and the Christmas Island Flying-fox (Pteropus melanotus natalis) are listed under national environmental law (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the EPBC Act). The numbers of all three EPBC listed flying-foxes have declined over recent times, due to habitat clearance, natural stochastic events and culling.

Counts of Grey-headed Flying-foxes conducted in 1989 and 1998-2001 indicated a 30 per cent decline in the national population. This qualified the species for listing as a vulnerable species under national environmental law.

Counts of Spectacled Flying-fox conducted between 1998 and 2000 indicated the Spectacled Flying-fox population declined from 153,000 in 1998 to about 80,000 in 1999 and 2000. Modelling identified that the species was likely to be extinct in less than 100 years due to the high levels of death associated with human interactions. This made them eligible for listing as vulnerable under national environmental law.

Counts of the Christmas Island Flying-fox conducted in 1984 concluded that the population was 6000 individuals and recorded anecdotal claims of a decline over the preceding decades. More recent censuses in 2007 and 2012 provided population estimates of 1500 and 1000 individuals respectively. The trend of decline and subsequent small population size made the subspecies eligible for listing as Critically Endangered under national environmental law.

It is important to remember that state governments, irrespective of national listing status, consider all species of flying-fox to be protected native species.

What does this national protection mean?

Actions that are likely to have a significant impact on the Grey-headed, Spectacled or Christmas Island Flying-fox must be referred to the Australian Government. If you are not sure if a proposed activity is likely to have a significant impact on these flying-foxes, please contact the Department to discuss it by emailing epbc.referrals@environment.gov.au or phoning 1800 803 772.

Substantial penalties of up to $8.5 million or up to seven years imprisonment apply for undertaking an activity, to which the EPBC Act applies, without approval. For more information about what this national protection means please refer to:

In addition to potential considerations under the EPBC Act, you are advised to check your obligations under state legislation before undertaking any activities that may kill or injure flying-foxes or interfere with camps.

Where can I get more information on flying-foxes?

Further information on the nationally listed Grey-headed, Spectacled and Christmas Island Flying-foxes can be found in the Species Profiles and Threats database (SPRAT profiles) for these species. There is also a national recovery plan in place for the Spectacled Flying-fox, containing details of the species' biology, threats and recovery objectives.

A recovery plan for the Grey-headed Flying-fox is being prepared.

The following state and territory government websites also have information on the ecology and biology of flying-foxes:

How can flying-foxes be managed in accordance with national environmental law?

Flying-fox camps can be large and may occur in trees that are close to houses and livestock. Residents who live near camps often have concerns regarding noise, damage to vegetation and hygiene.

Activities that are likely to have a significant impact on a nationally threatened species need to be referred to the Australian Government to ensure they are consistent with national environment law. In regards to nationally-listed flying-fox species, this may include proposals to disperse camps, move or shift camp boundaries, or clearance of important roosting or foraging habitat.

Some activities to manage problematic flying-fox camps may be considered unlikely to have a significant impact and may not need to be submitted to the Australian Government for approval. Examples may include minor modifications to habitat, such as creating buffers by trimming or removing vegetation using appropriate timing and methodology, planting non-roost plant species, or re-vegetating key areas to improve or create additional habitat away from affected areas.

Measures can also be implemented to deter colonies from establishing in inappropriate areas by using noise and visual methods. However, once a camp is established at a site, disturbance using noise and visual methods may result in a significant impact and may require a referral to the Australian Government.

It is recommended that you seek advice from the Department before undertaking major habitat modifications or other activities.

To help inform the public about how to live with flying-foxes, the state government websites listed above may also help to answer any questions you have.