Little Red Flying Fox Facts

Tadashi

Tadashi

Published: 10 Aug 2022

little red flying fox colony

The little red flying fox is something of an oddity in Australian wildlife. Despite being eccentric, it’s not only harmless but also cute. This, in turn, makes it stand out among Australian animals, which have a reputation for being dangerous. Learn more about them with these 40 little red flying fox facts.

  1. Little red flying foxes typically stand up to 200 mm tall at most.
  2. They also have a maximum wingspan of up to 300 mm.
  3. On average, little red flying foxes weigh around 450 grams.
  4. The heaviest little red flying fox weighed an estimated 600 grams.
  5. With an ear length of up to 40 mm, little red flying foxes have long ears by Australian flying fox standards.
  1. The little red flying fox and its sister species’ fragmentary fossil record makes it difficult to trace their evolutionary history.
  2. Scientists think up to 98% of the flying foxes’ fossil records have become lost to environmental factors.
  3. Scientists have used genetics studies to fill in the gaps in the fossil record.
  4. The earliest ancestors of the little red flying fox evolved in Australasia around 31 million years ago.
  5. Most of the ancestral flying fox species migrated to Eurasia during the Miocene Epoch, around 5 million years ago.
  6. Scientists think that the flying foxes used island hopping to reach Eurasia from Australasia.
  7. As of 2016, it remains unclear how flying foxes migrated from Australasia to Africa.
  8. Most scientists think they migrated the long way around through Eurasia.
  9. Scientists generally think it’s unlikely flying foxes could have island hopped to Africa across the Indian Ocean.
  10. Today, the little red flying fox remains in Australia along with three other flying bat species.
  1. Unlike other flying foxes, little red flying foxes have no tails.
  2. Other names of the species are the collared flying fox and the collared fruit bat.
  3. They also have the scientific name Pteropus scapalatus.
  4. William Peters first described them in 1862.
  5. Scientists collected the first specimens for study at Cape York in Northern Australia.
Table of Contents

Little red flying foxes have somewhat distinctive coloration.

Their bodies have had red-brown fur that is somehow patchy on the lower legs. The color of the fur also changes on the head, shifting to various shades of gray. Similarly, some specimens feature patches of white or cream-colored fur on their shoulders. They may also have additional patches of yellow fur between the white or cream-colored patches. Their wing membranes have a light brown color and turn translucent when spread for flight. That said, the little red flying fox’s color only sets it apart from some species, such as the gray-headed flying fox, as well as the black flying fox.

Little red flying foxes have many similarities with the big-eared flying fox.

In fact, big-eared flying foxes stand only slightly taller than little red flying foxes, although weigh more on average than the former. Similarly, the big-eared flying fox has around the same wingspan as that of the little red flying fox. Ironically, despite its name, the big-eared flying fox actually has a shorter ear than the little red flying fox. The big-eared flying fox has, at most, an ear length of 37 mm, compared to the little red flying fox’s 40 mm.

Aside from physical dimensions, the two species also have similar coloration, with the big-eared flying fox set apart by its purely brown color. It also lacks the little red flying fox’s differently-colored fur on the head or white patches on the shoulders. That said, big-eared flying foxes do feature yellow patches on their shoulders and bellies.

Little Red Flying Fox Facts, Little Red Flying Fox
Photo from Pixabay

They also have a wide range of habitats.

In fact, the little red flying fox has the widest range of habitats out of all bats in Australia. Their range stretches across the eastern and northern coasts of Australia, while also extending inland. Scientists even think they might have spread across the whole continent, if not for the arid climate of the Australian interior. The small size makes them very vulnerable to the heat, with the animals easily suffering from dehydration and even heat strokes. This, in turn, has limited them to the tropical and subtropical climates of the Australian coasts, as well as the temperate patches between the desert and the coasts.

Little red flying foxes don’t echolocate.

This particular fact might come as a surprise, considering how echolocation has become an iconic ability for bats. Echolocation simply involves an animal releasing a high-frequency burst of sound and using the echoes to map the surrounding environment. It also allows them to detect and even track any other animals around them. This ability usually evolves in animals that live in dark and poorly-lit environments, to compensate for the reduced utility of sight.

However, since the little red flying fox evolved to live in the open unlike other bats, it has long since lost its ancestors’ echolocation ability. This, though, also means that, unlike other bats, little red flying foxes have very good eyesight. Scientists even think they can see and differentiate between colors, unlike cats and dogs.

Their migrations mostly follow the seasons.

For one thing, and as we’ve previously mentioned, little red flying foxes don’t like the heat. This means they migrate with the seasons to stay within their preferred temperature range. And when they migrate, they do so in huge swarms, with scientists estimating the smallest swarm at 20,000 animals. At their biggest, these migratory swarms can include over a million animals.

So many animals living and moving together naturally require a lot of food to feed themselves. This leads to their migrations similarly taking into account the availability of fruits and flowers that little red flying foxes feed on. When the place they currently live starts to run out of food, the little red flying foxes will move on to find more food.

They play an important role in the surrounding environment.

Scientists have since discovered that little red flying foxes actually serve as pollinators. This results from their diet including various flowers, the pollen of which catches on the animals’ fur when they feed. As the little red flying foxes move from flower to flower, they spread the pollen with them, thus contributing to the flowering plants’ life cycles.

In fact, the little red flying fox’s role as a pollinator isn’t limited to local areas where they live at a given time. Instead, it’s universal across their whole range over the Australian continent. This has led scientists to designate them as a keystone species, the extinction of which would devastate the Australian ecosystem.

Little red flying foxes have a diverse diet.

Their staple includes the flowers of the eucalyptus and bloodwood trees, both of which heavily depend on the little red flying fox to reproduce. This, in turn, also contributes to the animals’ migratory habit, as both types of trees have irregular flowering seasons. Aside from eucalyptus and bloodwood trees, little red flying foxes also feed on the flowers of the paperbark trees.

In general, though, while they primarily feed on the previously-mentioned flowering trees, little red flying foxes will feed on any flower they find in the wild. They also feed on various fruits they find, although they’re not as dependent on fruits for food as other fruit bats.

Little Red Flying Fox Facts, Eucalyptus Flower
Photo from Wikipedia

A large colony of little red flying foxes exists at Mataranka Hot Springs.

It’s also known as Elsey National Park, located in Northern Australia around 10 km east of the town of Mataranka. The hot springs refer to the Mataranka Thermal Pools, which also feature large groves of bamboo. The little red flying foxes live around the pools, roosting on the bamboo and feeding on their flowers despite the heat.

Their presence has actually become undesirable in the park, as the little red flying foxes widely litter the area with their droppings. Not only does this prove a sanitary hazard, but it also causes a bad smell that turns off park visitors. However, environmental protections mean the park keepers can’t drive the bats from the park either, and thus the bats stay as long as they want.

Little red flying foxes have distinctive breeding behaviors.

The mating season begins in October and lasts for two months through November to end in December. During that time, females will flock to males, who form harems of females to mate repeatedly with. At the end of the mating season, the swarms will split along gender lines, with the pregnant females clustering together separately from the males. Little red flying foxes stay pregnant between four and five months, before giving birth in either March or April of the following year.

The young little red flying foxes stay with their mothers until the start of the next mating season. The juveniles then leave their mothers and form their separate swarm, which sexually matures after another year. Afterward, they too follow the same breeding pattern as the rest of their species.

They also have various ways to communicate.

The communication methods of the little red flying foxes actually remain something of a mystery to scientists. They know the animals primarily use a variety of sounds, which range from those audible to humans to those too high-pitched for humans to hear. Study on most of these sounds continues today, with scientists having only identified a few specific sounds. These include sounds used by little red flying foxes to warn others of their kind.

Other sounds scientists have identified include various mating calls used by either or both males and females during mating season. Scientists have also noted that males of the species mark their preferred roosting areas during mating season, as a form of chemically-assisted communication.

Many predators prey on the little red flying fox.

Of these, the sea eagle has the most successful record, even outright snatching little red flying foxes out of the air in mid-flight. There’s also the carpet python, which scientists describe as able to enter little red flying fox colonies unnoticed. Once inside, the snake randomly selects its prey, and coiling up around it, strangles it to death before eating.

Little Red Flying Fox Facts, White-Bellied Sea Eagle
Photo from Wikipedia

The Australian freshwater crocodile also preys on the little red flying fox, often lying in wait just under the surface of a water body. When a little red flying fox swoops down for a drink, the crocodile lunges up and snatches its prey out of the air. The crocodiles also sometimes creep up to a tree where little red flying foxes roost on. The crocodiles then thrash around on the ground, panicking and agitating their prospective prey. They try to flee, but in their panic, often crash into each other in mid-air. This causes them to fall to the ground, helpless before the hungry crocodiles.

They have a negative reputation in the public eye.

Humans generally consider little red flying foxes as pests, especially given their habit of consuming any fruit they find. Little red flying foxes find themselves drawn to fruit farms and orchards, where they can ruin entire harvests.

Their large swarms also trouble people in the wild, such as campers and backpackers. In particular, the large numbers of droppings they leave around their roosting areas force people to find different places to camp at. That, or when a swarm of little red flying foxes arrives at an established camp, the campers often have to find another place to camp or find themselves splattered with droppings.

Little red flying foxes can carry various diseases.

As mammals, little red flying foxes can contract rabies, which they can pass onto people either with a bite or scratches with their talons. They can also contract the Hendra virus, which causes lung disease or even meningitis in horses and humans.

There’s also the Australian Bat LyssaVirus (ABLV), a newly-discovered rabies-like virus that has greatly concerned medical experts. Little red flying foxes can also serve as carriers for the Menangle virus, which causes severe, flu-like symptoms in humans, stillbirths, and congenital defects in pigs. All these diseases that little red flying foxes can carry and even spread have done little to improve their reputation in human eyes.

They can get parasitized by ticks.

Much like with rabies, as mammals, the little red flying foxes can get parasitized by ticks. They can then pass these ticks onto other mammals, either directly to humans, or indirectly through mammals with close contact with humans. This could provide infection vectors for various diseases, such as Lyme disease, Q fever, and tularemia.

There’s also the fact that little red flying foxes live in Australia, which makes them vulnerable to Australian ticks. Unlike other ticks, Australian ticks have venom, which can cause tick paralysis in the victims.

The Queen palm tree also poses various issues to the little red flying fox.

For one thing, little red flying foxes eat their fruits even when unripe, which could have various toxins. This causes widespread fatalities, even mass deaths of entire swarms that feed on Queen palm groves. The tree’s leaves and branches also prove difficult for the little red flying fox to roost on and can cause them to get entangled. They either find themselves trapped and either starve to death or suffer various injuries while trying to get loose.

Wounds, in particular, prove especially dangerous, as they become infected and cause the animal to die a slow death. This has led various local governments in Northern and Eastern Australia to recommend residents against planting Queen palms on their properties.

Conservationists find it difficult to protect the species.

For one thing, it’s very difficult to track individual members of the species, thanks to their tendency to travel in large groups. Similarly, tracking an entire swarm of little red flying foxes quickly becomes impractical, again thanks to the large size of their swarms.

Other obstacles in protecting the species include the old argument between conservation and economy. Conservationists find it difficult to gain public support in the face of people losing their livelihoods for the sake of wild animals. Fruit farmers, in particular, find their harvests destroyed by swarms of little red flying foxes. Even the Australian country as a whole as well, over how conservationists argue against further development of wilderness to preserve the animals’ habitats. All this, of course, comes at the expense of jobs and income for people. Naturally, this tends to make the conservationists unpopular in the public’s eye.

Conservationists have various recommendations to reduce friction between humans and little red flying foxes.

Conservationists have tried to find common ground between the needs of nature and the needs of man. For one thing, they point out how fruit farmers don’t have to shoot little red flying foxes trying to eat their produce. A simple net to keep the animals from getting to the fruit will suffice.

That said, they also ask people who use nets to avoid using ones that will harm the animals in the process. These include barbed wire netting or nets with small holes that the animals can quickly get themselves entangled in. Conservationists have also pointed out that wildlife services do exist, and that people should call them to assist in case they find any of the little red flying foxes get entangled or injured.

The Australian government has official protections for flying foxes within its borders.

Little red flying foxes don’t usually fly into and live in urban areas, but human development has caused their urban population to grow in recent years. This has led the Australian government to authorize local governments to take action and protect the animals from needless harm when encountering people. These include the National Conservation Act of 1992, as well as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999.

This, in turn, has led to various local governments launching conservation programs of their own. One example was Queensland state’s decision to build artificial roosts for the animals. This gives little flying foxes a home of their own without needing to trespass on human property. By reducing encounters between humans and little red flying foxes, it’s hoped that it would similarly reduce the harm caused by one side to the other.

Brisbane, in particular, has a growing urban population of flying foxes.

This has caused problems with the city’s human population, especially in suburban areas. Swarms of little red flying foxes make a lot of noise among themselves, which can make it difficult for people to sleep. It may also cause distress to people with sensitivity to noise, such as infants, children, and the elderly.

The animals also sometimes pose a direct threat to human safety, particularly given how they naturally carry various diseases. There are also the previously mentioned large amounts of droppings that swarms leave behind them, which prove a sanitary hazard. Large swarms flying out in the open also pose a danger. In particular, they can obscure sight, which is dangerous for drivers. They could also fly into vehicle windshields, potentially causing damage or even provoking accidents.

Little Red Flying Fox Facts, Brisbane
Photo by Kgbo from Wikipedia

The city government has released guidelines to ensure the welfare of both humans and flying foxes alike.

The simplest of them all include covering one’s trash, which keeps its scent from drawing the animals. They also ask people not to leave laundry hanging out at night, as this risks them getting damaged or dirtied by the animals. People should also park their vehicles in a garage for similar reasons. They can also cover them with washable covers if a garage isn’t available.

The city government also advises people against directly confronting or provoking little red flying foxes. While the animals normally avoid people, like all animals, they can turn hostile and attack should they ever get provoked. The government also suggests the use of double-glazed windows in areas with large populations of little red flying foxes. Their increased insulation would work to help keep the animals’ noise out.