Flying-foxes are native to Australia and play a critical ecological role. They are among the few wildlife species that are able to disperse rainforest seeds and cross-pollinate the flowers of eucalypts and other sclerophyll species over significant distances, helping to maintain the genetic diversity of Australian forests.
This ecological role is particularly important in a fragmented landscape such as the Gold Coast, where native forest patches are reduced in size and isolated from larger, continuous forest areas.
Three species of flying-foxes inhabit our City including grey-headed flying-fox, little red flying-fox and black flying-fox.
The Gold Coast has long been the home of the grey-headed flying fox. Their roosts are generally in coastal areas near watercourses or wetlands. Pollen, nectar, fruit and flowers of over 100 native plant species are favoured foods.
This species can be spotted during the day roosting in the lower to middle part of the tree canopy, they can be identified by their grey coloured heads. Due to habitat loss and long term population declines, this animal is listed as a ‘vulnerable’ species by the Federal Government.
Little red flying-fox
Little red flying-foxes are the smallest of the three species found on the Gold Coast. They migrate from Tropical North Queensland to the Gold Coast during the summer months. Colonies may arrive in relatively low numbers but their visits are short, lasting only a few months.
This species can be spotted roosting in the upper parts of the tree canopy during the day, often in the same trees as grey-headed flying–foxes.
Unfortunately black flying-foxes are susceptible to high temperatures. Large numbers of heat-related deaths may occur in areas where daytime temperatures rise above 42 degrees celsius.
Flying-foxes concentrate in roosts (or camps) during the day. However, they are nocturnal (active at night) flying up to 50 kilometres each night searching for food. Flying-foxes put on an amazing nightly display as they fly from their roost trees in search of food such as flowers, fruit and sweet tree sap.
Their numbers at daytime roost sites rise and fall throughout the year as individuals move between areas with abundant food, so don’t be surprised if they’re present one day and gone the next.
Like us, flying-foxes enjoy coastal living. Roost sites tend to be in urban areas along creeks and wetlands near the coast where temperatures aren’t too high and flowering and fruit-bearing trees are plentiful.
The odour of a flying-fox roost plays an important communication role amongst individuals in the group. The smell is not from their faeces but instead it is from the male’s scent gland which they use to mark their territories just like koalas and possums. The smell is enhanced during the breeding season; when they are disturbed and pushed onto another male’s branch, or when newcomers arrive in the roost. While this may be an unpleasant odour, it does not represent a risk to human health.
If you notice an increase in noise at your local flying-fox roost in January, February and March, it is because the male flying-foxes are forming territories and breeding is occurring. Young are born after a six-month pregnancy and birth typically occurs between September and late October.
Noisy at night
Flying-foxes are nocturnal animals that feed at night. If you see or hear flying-foxes in the trees or shrubs near your home at night, it is likely that they will only be there temporarily to feed on the flowers or fruit. It is likely that they will move on, once there is no more food in the area.
Living near flying-foxes
In some instances living near flying-foxes can be challenging. Here are some tips for living near flying-foxes:
- Bring your washing in before dusk and don’t leave it out over night.
- Garage or cover your vehicle at night.
- Cover outdoor furniture or place it under shelter at night.
- Use a pool cover.
- Try not to disturb them while they roost — this will only make them noisier and enhance the odour they omit.
For more tips and information on living near flying foxes, visit Queensland Department of Environment and Science.
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that are known to exist in many animals such as bats, rodents, camels and cats. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are passed from animals to humans. In regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organisation has advised that “the route of transmission to humans at the start of this event remains unclear.” Preliminary investigations suggest that small, insectivorous microbats from China may be a potential host for this virus. These are not the larger flying-fox species that you see in your backyard. As such, there does not appear to be a connection with Australian flying-fox species and the current COVID-19 pandemic.
For current information and advice on COVID-19 affecting people, refer to the Queensland Health.
Australian Bat Lyssavirrus
Queensland Health advises that although flying-foxes may carry bacteria and viruses which can be harmful to humans, the risk of infection is low. A very small number of flying-foxes (less than one percent) are infected with a disease called Australian Bat Lyssavirus which is similar to rabies. This virus can only be transmitted to humans by bites, scratches or saliva into an open wound from an infected bat or flying-fox.
If you have no contact with a flying-fox then there is no reason for any concern. However, if you are bitten or scratched by a flying-fox, wash the wound thoroughly, apply antiseptic and seek immediate medical advice from a doctor as soon as possible. Additional information can be obtained from Queensland Health
Flying-foxes are the natural host for the Hendra virus which is a horse disease. People cannot catch the Hendra virus from flying-foxes. Human infection results from close contact with infected horses and their blood, body fluids and tissues The Queensland Government provides useful information for horse owners and protection against Hendra virus.
If a pet becomes sick after contact with a flying-fox, seek advice from a veterinarian. For more information about flying-foxes posing disease risks to pet dogs visit RSPCA.
Flying-fox droppings are mostly found where they eat rather than where they sleep. Exposure to bat and flying-fox faeces or urine is not considered to pose a risk of catching Australian Bat Lyssavirus. The same human hygiene approach should be used for flying-fox droppings as with any other animal.
Domestic swimming pools affected by flying-fox faeces can be appropriately managed by maintaining effective pool disinfection. This involves regular backwashing of your pool filter, running your filter daily, maintaining chlorine levels, and keeping the pH between 7.2 and 7.8. Advice on pool maintenance can be obtained from your local pool store. We also recommend residents to use a pool cover when living near a roost.
For households using rainwater, the risk of getting ill from flying-fox faeces is no different than for other animals. For further information, Queensland Health has developed a fact sheet on Roof Harvested Rainwater and Protection of Public Health and Guidance on Use of Rainwater Tanks is available from the Australian Government Department of Health.
Sick, injured or orphaned flying-fox
Do not handle flying-foxes under any circumstance. Should you find a sick, injured or orphaned flying-fox contact Bats QLD (0447 222 889), Wildcare Australia (07 5527 2444) or the RSPCA on 1300ANIMAL (1300 264 625).
What to do if you find a dead flying-fox
To report dead bats or flying-foxes in City parks, along footpaths or roads, please email the City’s Waste Management unit at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07 5667 5976. To report dead animals on major roads (motorways and highways), please contact Department of Transport and Main Roads on 13 1940.
Removing dead flying-foxes from private land
As the landowner, you can remove the dead flying-fox yourself if you follow these simple safety steps:
- Do not directly touch the flying fox.
- Make sure the flying fox is dead (if the animal is alive, do not touch and contact 1300ANIMAL (1300 264 625).
- Wear thick gloves and use a shovel or tongs to remove the flying fox and place it in a plastic bag.
- You can dispose of the flying fox in the plastic bag in your general rubbish wheelie bin, or transfer it to your local landfill.
For detailed information regarding flying-foxes and human health, visit the Queensland Health website.
Like all native wildlife species, flying-foxes are protected under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992. Approval is needed from the Queensland Department of Environment and Science to disturb or attempt to relocate them. Unlawfully disturbing flying-foxes can result in considerable fines. The City of Gold Coast can only manage flying-fox roosts that are located on City managed land (e.g. City parks and City road reserves) in accordance with our Statement of Flying-fox Management Intent (SoMI).
Please note: If you are experiencing significant disturbance associated with a roost that is located on City managed land, please contact us via email at email@example.com or phone 07 5667 5990.
Properties that contain roosts or flying-fox vegetation are the responsibility of landholder(s). The City does not manage flying-foxes and their habitat on private or State owned land. Private landholders are able to conduct flying-fox management on their land in accordance with the Queensland Government’s Code of Practice – Low impact activities affecting flying- fox roosts or by obtaining a Flying-fox roost management permit from the Queensland Department of Environment and Science.
My neighbour’s trees are attracting flying-foxes, what can I do?
In the first instance you should talk to your neighbour to discuss the best way to deal with the situation. The City cannot compel private landowners to remove trees or manage their properties in a particular way to reduce flying-fox impacts on their neighbours. The Neighbourhood Disputes (Diving Fences and Trees) Act 2011 provides a means to dispute resolution between neighbours. Information is available at our Advice on civil disputes involving vegetation and trees page.