Black flying fox (Pteropus alecto)

Spanish: Zorro Volador Negro
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderChiroptera
FamilyPteropodidae
GenusPteropus (1)
SizeWingspan: over 1 m (2)
Weight500 – 980 g (2)
Top facts

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

The black flying fox is Australia’s largest bat and, with an incredible wingspan of over a metre, is amongst the largest bats in the world (4). As its name suggests, the body is almost completely black in colour, relieved only by an incomplete rusty-red collar and a light frosting of white-tipped hairs on the abdomen (5) (6). Sometimes these bats have a reddish-brown eye-ring, and the lower leg is un-furred (6). During the day, thousands of bats can be seen in huge, noisy colonies amongst the treetops. Come dusk, vast numbers clutter the darkening night sky as they fly off in search of food, shrieking as they go (7) (8).

Found in coastal and near-coastal areas across northern, eastern and western Australia, as well as in southern Papua New Guinea and Nusa Tenggara and Sulawesi in Indonesia (5) (6).

Large colonies or ‘camps’ roost in trees in bamboo, rainforest, eucalyptus open forest, savannah woodland, and mangrove or paperbark swamps (6) (9). There have also been a few known roosting sites in caves and overhangs, but this is very rare (9).

These nocturnal animals rest during the day in communal roosts (known as camps) of up to hundreds of thousands of individuals (in the Northern Territory, roosts rarely exceed 30,000 animals), which they sometimes share with the grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) or little red flying fox (Pteropus scapulatus ). Temperature is regulated by the bats wrapping their wings tightly around themselves if cold or wet, and flapping their outstretched wings when hot (2). Come sunset, thousands of bats set off to feed, using sight and smell (7) to find the nectar, fruit and blossom of trees such as eucalypts, paperbarks and turpentine trees (2) (6). These bats utilise different resources depending upon the time of year, and may travel up to 50 kilometres a night in search of food (2) (6) (9). When native foods are scarce, particularly during drought, the bats take introduced or commercial fruits such as mangoes (5). Leaves are also eaten by chewing them to a pulp, swallowing the juice and expelling the pulp, and fig fruits are also eaten in this way (6).

During the mating season from February through to April (10), depending on the region, males establish and defend a small territory of about one metre along a branch, where they spend time grooming and displaying their genitalia (2) (6). Young are born between October and March in southern Australia (2) (10) or July and August in northern Australia, with birth peaks at maximum local plant productivity (2), when lots of trees are in bloom and there's plenty of fruit to feed upon (7). A single young is born and carried by its mother for the first month of life, after which it is left behind in the roost when the mother is off feeding (2). At two to three months old the pup can fly and will begin to follow its mother at night to forage and learn crucial life skills, gaining independence three months later (2) (6).

Although the black flying fox is not listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List, there are some issues that potentially threaten its survival. Clearing and fragmentation of native vegetation, mostly as the result of urban development, agriculture and intensive forestry, has reduced the availability of roost sites and feeding areas for this species (5). The black flying fox also suffers from persecution from farmers as an orchard pest. It is estimated that the Australian commercial fruit industry loses approximately $20 million a year to flying foxes and, as a consequence, they are shot in many areas (9).

Since the black flying fox is not considered endangered, and even appears to be increasing its numbers and extending its range in Australia, no targeted conservation efforts have been undertaken to protect the species (5).

For more information on the black flying fox see:

 

Authenticated (21/08/07) by Carol Palmer, Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service.

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. BBC: Science and Nature (November, 2006)
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/wildfacts/factfiles/3042.shtml
  3. CITES (November, 2006)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. James Cook University (November, 2006)
    http://www.jcu.edu.au/school/tbiol/zoology/local/flyingfx.htm
  5. Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW) (November, 2006)
    http://threatenedspecies.environment.nsw.gov.au/tsprofile/profile.aspx?id=10696
  6. The Henipavirus Ecology Collaborative Research Group (HERG) (November, 2006)
    http://www.henipavirus.org/virus_and_host_info/bats/pteropus_alecto.htm
  7. Queensland Government: Environmental Protection Agency / Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (November, 2006)
    http://www.epa.qld.gov.au/nature_conservation/wildlife/native_animals/nocturnal_animals/mammals/black_flyingfox/
  8. Rainforest-Australia (November, 2006)
    http://rainforest-australia.com/black_flying_fox.htm
  9. Animal Diversity Web (November, 2006)
    http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Pteropus_alecto.html
  10. Markus, N. and Blackshaw, J.K. (2002) Behaviour of the black flying fox Pteropus alecto: 1. An ethogram of behaviour, and preliminary characterisation of mother-infant interactions. Acta chiropterologica, 4(2): 137 - 152.