Description: The grey-headed flying-fox is the largest Australian bat with a wingspan of up to one metre. It has dark-grey body fur, a grey head, and a distinctive reddish-brown collar. It is also the only flying-fox with hairy legs right down to its ankles.
Habitat and distribution
The grey-headed flying-fox occurs along the south-east coast of Australia, from Rockhampton in central Queensland through New South Wales to western Victoria. During the last few years, the grey-headed flying-fox has also been recorded from Adelaide. However, only a small proportion of this range is used at any one time as the species selectively forages for where food is available. They look for food in most habitats that contain flowering and fruiting trees including closed forest, open forest, woodlands, and urban parks and gardens.
Life history and behaviour
Grey-headed flying-foxes are social and nocturnal. During the day they gather in camps, hanging from trees or other structures. One camp can contain tens of thousands of bats. The size and location of camps changes depending on the availability of food, and their social organisation is complex. Camps can also contain black and little-red flying-foxes.
Grey-headed flying-foxes have a range of vocalisations, with more than 20 different calls used for communication.
During the mating season (March-April) large camps are formed. Females give birth to a single young in October-November, which is carried by the mother (even during flight) for four to five weeks. The young are then left at the camp while the mother forages, and are dependent on their mother for up to four months.
During the evening, grey-headed flying-foxes leave their camp to forage. They can fly up to 50 kilometres in search of food, and use their good eyesight, smell, and the sound of other bats feeding, to help them locate flowers and fruit. Although they can feed in orchards, this seems to occur when natural foods are scarce, and the species has a preference for the nectar and pollen from eucalypts, melaleucas and banksias. Grey-headed flying-foxes are an important pollinator and seed-disperser of many trees, and play a key role in the maintenance of forest habitats.
Grey-headed flying-foxes are threatened by any activity that destroys their foraging and roosting habitats, such as clearing of vegetation and urban development. In some areas they are also threatened by people who illegally kill them to protect their orchards. Killing flying foxes is illegal in Victoria but can occur lawfully under a licence in Queensland and New South Wales.
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