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 their 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.
|State status||IUCN status||Distribution|
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 foxes
(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.|
|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
|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).|
(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).|
Christmas Island flying-fox
|Not listed*||Vulnerable||Restricted to Christmas Island|
Bare-backed fruit bat
|Not listed||Near threatened (Queensland)||Not listed||Most of north, north-central and east Cape York.|
* The species was nominated in 2007 for Vulnerable status but was found not eligible. It is currently being assessed for listing as a nationally threatened species.
- 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) and spectacled flying foxes (Pteropus conspicillatus subsp. conspicillatus) are listed under national environmental law (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the EPBC Act). The numbers of Grey-headed and spectacled flying-foxes have declined significantly over recent times, often as a result of habitat clearance caused by human development.
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.
It is important to remember that state governments, irrelevant of a national listing status, consider all species of flying fox to be protected species.
What does this national protection mean?
Activities likely to have a significant impact on the grey-headed or spectacled 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning 1800 803 772.
Substantial penalties of up to $5.5 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:
At some state government levels it is an offence to kill or injure flying-foxes, or to interfere with their camps. If you are proposing the above 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 and spectacled 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:
- Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management - A-Z of animals
- New South Wales Department of Environment & Heritage - Native Animals - Flying Foxes
- Victoria Department of Sustainability and Environment - Flying foxes
- South Australia Department of Environment and Natural Resources
- Northern Territory Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport - Flying Fox (Bat)
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 associated with flying-fox camps.
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. This may include proposals to disperse flying-fox colonies of a nationally threatened species, move or shift camp boundaries, or clearance of important roosting or foraging habitat for a nationally threatened species.
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 would 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 New South Wales, Queensland and Victorian Governments have developed internet sites which may help to answer any questions you have.
- NSW Department of Environment & Heritage - Flying-foxes
- Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management - Flying foxes
- Victoria Department of Sustainability and Environment - Flying foxes
How have problematic flying-fox camps been managed in the past?
Case study: Yarra Bend, Victoria
The Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) is the only organisation to have undertaken a dispersal of flying-foxes in Australia which has resulted in the total abandonment of the camp from the original location and the establishment of a new camp at a new location in suitable habitat.
The DSE undertook a dispersal of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne camp in 2003 which resulted in the colony moving to the nearby Yarra Bend Park in Kew and to an existing camp in Geelong.
In 2011, DSEWPaC considered a referral from DSE for the 'nudging' (the use of disturbance measures to manage / shift camp boundaries, rather than a dispersal) of the Yarra Bend camp in order to address public concerns with the impacts of this camp on nearby residents.
A Standard Operating Procedure has been developed for these activities that balances the interests of residents with the protection of the grey-headed flying-fox. This includes mitigation measures such as stop-work triggers, no-go zones, various monitoring and reporting protocols and specifications around the timing of the nudging activities to ensure that the breeding cycle of the species is not disrupted.
The Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne dispersal illustrates the ongoing and adaptive nature of dispersals and highlights the difficulty in defining what actually can be considered a success. The dispersal of flying-foxes from the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne resolved the problems around impacting upon heritage values.
However it has raised new issues to be managed, including local resident concerns at the new Yarra Bend location. Cost is also a factor - the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne dispersal required thousands of person-hours of effort and approximately $3 million in expenditure.
There is still much to be learnt about how to manage flying-fox dispersals so that they are successful. Monitoring currently forms an important component of dispersal guidelines being developed by DSEWPaC in conjunction with species experts.