Flying foxes
  • Last updated:
  • 18 Aug 2019

The Sunshine Coast region has a long history with Flying-foxes. In a survey plan in 1845, surveyor J.C. Burnett recorded the Aboriginal name Crummunda as a name for the area now known as Currimundi. Girraman, Garamandha or Crummunda are known to be the indigenous names meaning ‘place of flying-fox’.

Methods of mass destruction 1938 style

In April 1938, a conference was hosted at the Maroochy Shire Council Chambers in Nambour, convened by a number of councils in the area, to discuss ‘methods of mass destruction’ of the ‘flying-fox menace’. Attendees at the conference discussed the methods that had been trialled to destroy flying-fox roosts, including a summary of results of experiments made by the Queensland and New South Wales Governments. The experiments included the use of poison gas, explosives, electricity and flame guns to destroy camps. The yield of these methods was typically low in comparison to use of the shooting method. In the 12 years from 1926 to 1938, a total of 1071 flying fox scalps were collected from the Brisbane and East Moreton Pest Destruction Board area.

I would like to think as a community, we have come a long way since the shooting parties of the last century. However, flying fox populations still bear the scar of this unfortunate past, with many in our community still unaware of the important ecological role the Pteropodidae family play in enhancing our natural environment.

Ecological importance

Flying foxes are animals of extraordinary ecological importance, playing an essential role as forest pollinators and seed dispersers. They are dietary generalists, feeding on a combination of fruits, nectar and pollen, the composition of which varies depending on availability. Flying foxes play the role of one of nature’s bush regenerators with the ability to cover and forage over large distances, thereby pollinating and spreading the seed of numerous species. It has long been accepted that large scale flying fox movements are correlated to flowering and fruiting events and is often reflected in camp occupation.

Typically, flying fox camps are located in coastal lowland areas, in close proximity to a water source and in a patch of woody vegetation at least one hectare in size. Flying foxes are known to return to traditional camp sites and in some cases their occupation of a camp site spans 80 - 100 years. The destruction or disturbance of traditional camps through either natural events, such as flooding or through anthropogenic activities in recent times, has resulted in establishment of new camps scattered across the urban footprint. More often than not these newly established camps within the urban framework bring with them a degree of community conflict as a result of the noise and odour associated with the new neighbours. Along with this, the combination of changes to State Government strategies and the recent media coverage on disease risks has further tarnished the community perception of flying foxes.

Migration patterns

The short and long distance migration patterns of the Grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) have been studied using satellite technology, revealing many unknown camps throughout Queensland. Griffith University research studies of flying foxes have provided even greater insight into their movements. A Grey-headed flying fox F188, originally captured for collaring on Fraser Island travelled 230km north to Turkey Beach over a 48 hour period, at an average speed of 25 – 26km/hr. Three months later, F188 made its way south to the Sunshine Coast, spending time at both the Peachester and Kinmond Creek camp before loss of the tracker’s transmission in February 2009.

Understanding the history of flying foxes in our region and the movements of flying foxes today are crucial to understanding how to manage the species in the current urban landscape. At any one time, we may have up to three species visiting the 18 local camps. The camps are evenly distributed throughout the Sunshine Coast region and fluctuate in occupation throughout the year.

Right now is an important time of year for flying foxes in our region; the females are currently birthing and caring for dependant young and we have the ephemeral Little Red Flying fox (Pteropus scapulatus) visiting a number of camps. If you have an opportunity to visit one of the camps, quietly sit and observe, you will be surprised to find out who exactly is observing whom.

Article by Kate Winter