Have you ever seen a giant bat flying through the colorful night sky at sunset? It is an amazing sight!
Among many other fascinating animals, Australia is home to four species of Flying Foxes (Pteropus Poliocephalus, commonly called “fruit bats”): The Little Red, the Grey Headed -, the Black – and the Spectacled Flying Foxes. They belong to the category of megabats (as opposed to the smaller microbats) and can reach sizes of up to 253mm and weigh up to 1 kg.
Even though their size is pretty impressive and will remind you of tales of blood-sucking giants bats or vampires, Flying Foxes are purely vegetarian and are not known to attack humans. They eat mainly nectar pollen and fruits and therefore play an important role in the pollination of trees, carrying pollen from tree to tree in their fur.
However, in most neighborhoods, they are regarded as a pest, because they make a lot of noise and their campsites emit a strong smell. Even from Sydney’s Royal Botanical Gardens, they were evicted in June 2012, since the park management was concerned that they damaged the trees in which they roosted. According to officials of the Royal Botanic Gardens, more than 30 trees and palms had died due to their bat tenants. Furthermore, visitors had repeatedly complained about their noise and smell.
So the Flying Foxes had to find a new home. They were chased away with noise generators and ended up spreading out to join other existing bat colonies in Centennial Park, Lachlan Swamp, Paramatta Park and Wolli Creek.
If you have never seen a giant bat in the wild before, observing them in their natural habitat can be very exciting.
I came across one of their roosting places by accident during a hike down the Girraweh Walking Track between Sydney’s suburbs Bardwell and Turella.
As I walked past a series of rocks and caves I suddenly heard their cries above me in the treetops. At first, there were only a few of them, dispersed in several eucalyptus trees. But the further I walked, the more crowded the branches above me became and soon I was surrounded by thousands of squawking Flying Foxes, looking curiously at the human intruder from their upside-down position.
Luckily I am not scared of bats but find them rather cute and fascinating, so I stared back at them, just as interested. Though the guana smell was quite strong, I was mesmerized by the thousands of little faces and flapping wings, bustling in the trees around me. Some of them were stretching out their delicate wings, whose skin is so thin that you can see the sun shine through.
I kept walking under the bat – filled trees while each tree seemed to be inhabited by more Flying Foxes than the one before. In the core of their lair, the noise was intense.
You can check out the video I took with my phone while walking along under their trees here:
When I reached a bend of the trail that touches the creek, I got to see how the bats were flying close over the water surface, to cool down their bellies and collect drinking water in their fur, that they lick off back in the tree.
I can heartily recommend walking the Girraweh Walking Track to see them.
Go from Sydney Central to Turella Station. Within walking distance their is a park where you walk over a bridge and up a gentle hill, where you turn left onto a rough trail that leads into the bush. Coming from the Turella entrance on the Girraweh Trail, it is only a few hundred meters until you reach the first bat campsites. You will already hear them from afar. (And probably also smell them).
It is a nice, easy walk along the water with nice views. Soon you will reach a set of metal stairs near a big, wave-shaped rock, were the center of the bat campsite is. From there you can either go back or complete the short 5 km walk to Bardwell station, which offers nice forest scenery and stunning rock formations.
Many Flying Foxes of the Wolli Creek campsites, unfortunately, died during the recent heatwave. When temperatures reached over 47°C in January 2018 many bats and especially their young ones died of heatstroke. Even though rescuers attempted to save weak bats that had fallen from the trees, however, hundreds ended up not surviving the brain damage caused by the heat. This tragedy sadly occurs almost every year during the hot summer months since 2012.
The population of Flying Foxes in Sydney has declined during the last six years, showing how global warming affects wildlife all over the planet. Flying Foxes usually only have one baby a year, so the high mortality of young bats during the heatwaves is a real tragedy for the species.
Moreover, habitat loss is forcing them to settle in new places that are not suited to protect them sufficiently from the effects of Australia’s summer heat, resulting in the mass death of young bats every summer. Within the last ten years, bat numbers have been estimated to have declined by more than 30%. Unless global warming can be stopped, the Flying Foxes, whose conservation status was changed to “vulnerable” as from 2008, this species might soon go extinct.
If you see them soaring through the sky at night or visit them at their campsites in Sydney’s parks, remember how important they are for Australia’s eco system and treat them with respect and care. Don’t try to touch them and try to avoid loud noises that might disturb them while they are resting during the day. Help to educate other people about their importance and vulnerability and help to preserve their habitat, if you can.
If you want t read more about Australia’s amazing animals, have a look at this article about Australias Most Venomous Snakes.