Little red flying fox (Pteropus scapulatus)

Spanish: Zorro Volador De Queensland
GenusPteropus (1)
SizeLength: 20 cm (2)
Wingspan: 0.9 – 1.2 m (3)
Weight280 – 530 g (4)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (5).

As its common name suggests, the little red fox has a conspicuously reddish tinge to its fur and is one of the smallest of the Pteropus species (4) (6). The fur on the head is often grey and the leathery wings are reddish-brown and appear semi-translucent in flight (4) (7). This species is an efficient climber, using its jointed thumbs and its feet to clamber with great agility about the branches of a tree (8).

Found throughout Australia in Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, but particularly abundant in the north (2) (3). Occasionally individuals have been seen as far away as Papua New Guinea, and there has also been one sighting of an individual in New Zealand (3).

During the day, colonies known as ‘camps’ can sometimes have as many as one million bats. The little red flying fox roosts in the trees of a broad range of habitats including eucalypt forests, woodland, paperbark swamps, mangroves and bamboo thickets (4). This species is nomadic, venturing from coastal to rainforest to dry inland areas (8), following the seasonally varying flowering and fruiting cycles of different trees (2) (4).

Within their large camps, little red flying foxes roost in close proximity and in tight clusters, often causing large limbs of rainforest trees to snap off under the sheer weight of so many bats on a single branch (8)! During the breeding season between November and January (the Australian late spring, early summer) males establish territories within these roosts, from which they actively defend a harem of two to five females from other males (3) (4). After mating, females establish small groups consisting exclusively of females, which are maintained until young are born five months later in April to May (3). Females carry their young during flight for the first four to six weeks of life, after which the infant is left at the roost while they forage at night. At two months, young will move and fly around between the trees within the camp (4). Sexual maturity is typically reached between 18 months and 2 years of age (3).

This nectar specialist primarily feeds on the nectar and pollen of eucalyptus blossoms (4) (7), although the diet also includes flowers, fruit, growing shoots, bark, sap and insects and fruit orchards are occasionally raided when food is scarce, much to the irritation of farmers (2) (4). Little red flying foxes may fly over 80 km a night visiting different trees (7) and, like other flying foxes, use their excellent sense of sight and smell to find their food (9).

Like other Australian flying foxes, the little red flying fox is vulnerable to loss of suitable feeding and roosting sites due to clearance of native vegetation by forestry operations and for agriculture and urban development (10). In many states across Australia, flying foxes are considered orchard pests and in the past have been subjected to large-scale hunting and poisoning by farmers (3). An additional threat claiming the lives of hundreds of little red flying foxes and other wildlife is ensnaring on barbed wire fences, which are almost institutionalised in beef and dairy farming. At sunrise, returning bats often fly low to the ground to reduce wind resistance and many do not see the barbed wire fences until it is too late. The barbs puncture the delicate membrane of the bats’ wings, and the frantic victims’ struggles only cause further entanglement, while attempts to chew the wire to free themselves often mean the animal gets caught further by its mouth. The wings become torn, the fine wing bones smashed and, frequently, the upper palate is punctured or completely fractured. Unless rescued by humans, death is swift, and at least 40% of those recovered in time are too badly damaged to be released back into the wild (7).

Since most of the bats are snared on the top strand of the barbed wire fence, it has been advocated that the top strand should be replaced with smooth, galvanised wire as an obvious solution to the problem (7). Fortunately, the little red flying fox remains common in Australia, where it is legally protected, and is not considered endangered (3).

For more information on the little red flying fox see:

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

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)