GHFF MS 2
GHFF MS 2

Everything you need to know about South Australia's flying foxes

11 Jul. 2024 5 min read

Is it a bird, is it a plane, no, it’s a…bat? And you may spot one in your neighbourhood so here’s everything you need to know.

You may be familiar with the colony of grey-headed flying foxes that roost in trees in Botanic Park near the entrance to Adelaide Zoo.

But did you know they can be found across the state?

Recently, flying foxes have been seen at various locations on the Yorke Peninsula, Riverland and Eyre Peninsula. A new camp was recently found in Port Augusta and another new camp has been found just outside Mount Gambier.

If you’ve seen one of these fascinating creatures, you may have some questions. We’ve got you covered with this guide.

Are flying foxes native to South Australia?

Grey-headed flying foxes haven’t always been found in large numbers South Australia, but they are considered native to here.

They have been visiting us from eastern states for decades, but didn’t call SA home until 2010 when a group set up camp in Adelaide.

This is thought to be because of habitat loss, competition for food resources and the effects of climate change across the eastern states.

Are flying foxes protected?

Grey-headed flying foxes are protected by SA’s National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 and are also listed as vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Being listed as vulnerable means that they are unfortunately at risk of extinction.

Are flying foxes being seen in more SA regions?

There have been some sightings of flying foxes in areas like Streaky Bay, Port Lincoln, Riverton, Bamera and Mambray Creek.

New grey-headed flying fox camps have also recently been reported at Port Augusta and near Mount Gambier.

Flying foxes often move about the landscape seeking nectar, flowers and fruits of the many native and introduced plants they feed on.

How do flying foxes help the environment?

Grey-headed flying foxes play an important role in keeping our ecosystems healthy.

You might have read our blog on the power of pollinators, well it might surprise you to know that flying foxes are actually one of these environmental allies.

When they forage for food, they disperse native seeds and pollen – benefiting our many native plants.

Are flying foxes dangerous?

Like most bats, grey-headed flying foxes are harmless in themselves, but they can carry viruses that can be deadly to humans.

Australian bat lyssavirus is a rabies-like disease that can be carried by both mega-bats like flying foxes and micro-bats like the mouse-sized Gould’s wattled bat.

It can be passed through bites, scratches or exposure to bat saliva, though it has only been detected in less than 1% of Australian bats. There have only been 3 Australian bat lyssavirus cases recorded in humans in Australia.

Because of the risk of lyssavirus, only people vaccinated against rabies should handle bats. If you see one on the ground, do not touch it – even if it is dead.

Be sure to visit SA Health’s website for more information on disease risks and how to stay safe around bats.

What do flying foxes eat?

Grey-headed flying foxes are strictly vegetarian and feed predominantly on nectar and fruit.

How big are flying foxes?

They have a wingspan of nearly 1 m, which puts them among the world’s largest bats.

Are flying foxes nocturnal?

Yes, grey-headed flying foxes are nocturnal. They roost in trees during the day and fly out at sunset to their feeding grounds, sometimes up to 50 km away.

What do I do if I see a flying fox?

Flying foxes regularly travel about 20 km from their camp each night looking for food, so you may occasionally find them foraging on your property. While they can be noisy and messy, their visits are usually temporary and they’re likely to move on when they run out of food.

They sometimes travel more than 20 km from their camp in search of other food sources. It’s not unusual for them to sleep away from camp when making these longer trips, however if flying foxes are sleeping on your property during the day for several days in a row, please email the Department for Environment and Water on wildlife@sa.gov.au – they are always interested in these observations and potential changes in their movements.

If you find a sick, injured or dead flying fox, do not touch it, and contact a native animal rescue organisation like Bat Rescue SA (0475 132 093) or Fauna Rescue of South Australia ((08) 8486 1139) for assistance.

Remember: our wildlife rescuer and carers are volunteers that put in their own time, energy and resources into caring for our native animals. Depending on where you live, there may not be many volunteers available to immediately assist you.

Fascinated by these nocturnal wonders? Find out how flying foxes keep their cool in heatwaves.

(Main image courtesy of Martin Stokes)

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