The Grey-headed Flying-fox, also known as the 'fruit bat', is Australia's largest megabat and a protected species in NSW. Grey-headed flying-foxes are nocturnal mammals who live in camps containing hundreds to tens of thousands of animals. Flying-foxes roost in these camps during the day and are active at night, flying out at sunset and often travelling 30-50km to forage for food. Flying-foxes are a keystone species and play an invaluable role in maintaining the health and biodiversity of our environment.
Unlike smaller microbats, who use echolocation to find and feed on insects, flying-foxes use their eyes and ears to locate food. They exist on a diet of nectar, pollen and fruit. Grey-headed flying-foxes are particularly attracted to native trees such as eucalypts, banksias, figs and melaleucas (paperbark), however they will also resort to non-native food sources, such as cocos palm fruit, in times of food shortage. Many native Australian flowering trees produce their nectar at night, making the nocturnal flying-fox ideally suited for seed dispersal and pollination. Flying-foxes are excellent cross-pollinators, carrying seeds and pollen in their fur and droppings and dispersing them over long distances, ensuring a healthy and genetically robust ecosystem. After flying long distances throughout the night, flying-foxes will return to their camps at dawn, where they will roost and rest for the day.
Grey-headed Flying-fox enjoying a banksia blossom. Image: Steve Parish
The Sutherland Shire is currently home to three flying-fox camps: Kareela, Kurnell Desalination Plant, and the Camellia Gardens camp in Caringbah South. A fourth, temporary camp off Captain Cook Drive in Cronulla has been previously identified, however this camp is presently unoccupied. Council have developed a flying-fox fact sheet to assist residents living near a flying-fox camp .
The risk of contracting disease from a flying-fox is low. A very small percentage (<1%) of wild flying-foxes carry the Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV). ABLV is found in the saliva of infected animals and can only be transmitted through a bite or a scratch. It is therefore strongly recommended that members of the public do not handle flying-foxes. ABLV cannot be transmitted through urine or faeces and, according to NSW Health, living, working or playing near a flying-fox camp does not pose a significant risk.
If do you come across an injured or dead flying-fox, please phone WIRES on 1300 094 737. WIRES will send an appropriately vaccinated carer to rescue or attend to the animal.
For more information on flying-foxes and your health, please see NSW Health's flying-fox fact sheet.
Flying-fox Myths and FAQs
Myth: Flying-foxes roost/build nests in trees at night.
Fact: Flying-foxes are nocturnal animals who come to life at night when they fly out from their camps in search of food. A GHFF may fly up to 50km in a single night to find and feed on native blossoms and nectar before returning to large camps to roost for the day. They do not build nests, or roost in the evening. If you spot a flying-fox in your backyard at night, chances are there is a tree close by producing fruit or flowers. Flying-foxes will only be present as long as these trees are in fruit, and will move on from an area once the food source is depleted. In the majority of cases, impacts such as noise and droppings will also reduce or cease completely at this time.
Myth: Flying-foxes are aggressive and will swoop or scratch you without warning.
Fact: Flying-foxes are timid animals, and generally not aggressive towards humans or other animals. Most bites and scratches occur when untrained members of the public attempt to handle sick or injured flying-foxes who have been caught in nets, or are hurt and have come to the ground. NSW Health advises all unvaccinated people to avoid handling injured flying-foxes, and to contact WIRES (1300 094 737) if you encounter a dead or injured flying-fox on or near your property.
Myth: Flying-foxes droppings carry diseases that are dangerous to people and animals.
Fact: Australian Bat Lyssavirus is a virus that affects the central nervous system, similar to rabies. It is believed that a small percentage (<1%) of wild flying-foxes carry this virus. According to NSW Health, ABLV can only be transmitted to humans or animals via a bite or scratch from an infected animal. Contact or exposure to bat faeces, urine or blood do not pose a risk of exposure to ABLV, nor do living, playing or walking near bat roosting areas, as long as bats are not handled.
Myth: Flying-foxes cannot see well and navigate using sonar.
Fact: Unlike their smaller insect-eating relative the microbat, flying-foxes actually have excellent eyesight which they use, in conjunction with a great sense of smell, to navigate and seek out blossoms and fruit from a long distance.
FAQ: What’s that smell?
Answer: Contrary to popular belief, flying-foxes are actually very clean animals who groom themselves regularly. Flying-foxes have a clever way of inverting (i.e. turning right way up) when they go to the toilet to avoid soiling themselves. GHFF camps can have a strong earthy odour that some people find unpleasant, but this is not due to mess or poor hygiene. Rather it is produced by scent glands in their necks and shoulders and is a form of communication between males and females, mothers and babies. This scent is also used by males to mark their territory during breeding season (March – May). You may notice the scent is at its strongest at this time of year.
FAQ: Why doesn’t Council do something about the flying-foxes?
Answer: Flying-foxes are a nationally protected species and play a very important role in the ongoing health and regeneration of our native vegetation. Flying-foxes are now under threat due to loss of habitat and food sources caused by urban development and clearing. Council are active in managing amenity impacts that can arise from living near large flying-fox camps, however it is an offence to harm or kill a GHFF and such actions can attract substantial fines. For more information on the beneficial role that flying-foxes play in our environment, visit www.littleaussiebat.com.au.
Kareela Flying-fox Camp
Visit this page to learn more about past and present management of the Kareela Camp.
Camellia Gardens Flying-fox Camp
Visit this page to learn more about past and present management of the Camellia Gardens Camp.
Report a flying-fox sighting to us