Australian Flying Foxes Need Help

By Merlin Tuttle
1/10/17

As one who in 1985 played a lead role in convincing the New South Wales (NSW) Minister for the Environment and Planning, Bob Carr, to provide statewide protection for flying foxes, I am extremely disappointed to see  such progress reversed decades later by a predecessor. Grey-headed flying foxes are essential pollinators and seed dispersers upon which many of Australia’s unique plants and animals rely.

Nevertheless, their numbers have declined dramatically over the past hundred years. They first were massively exterminated by fruit growers, because during periodic droughts, when forests failed to flower, starving bats would invade orchards. Thanks to excellent research, orchards can now be protected. However, the bats’ traditional roosting habitats often have been overrun by urbanization. Once again these bats are in trouble, often with few options remaining. In small numbers, they may be enjoyed. But during unpredictable spikes in gum tree flowering, these sophisticated commuters can be attracted long distances. When bats weighing up to two pounds and having wingspans of more than three feet suddenly increase by as much as 10-fold, noise and odor can become a serious problem.

Gray-headed and other flying foxes are essential pollinators and seed dispersers for Australian forests. However, they are killed in massive numbers during occasional droughts when native trees fail to flower, forcing them to resort ot orchard fruit which could be protected with netting.
Gray-headed and other flying foxes are essential pollinators and seed dispersers for Australian forests. This grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) pollinating a rose gum tree (Angophora costata). Flying foxes are the continent’s most important long-distance pollinators and seed dispersers. However, they are killed in massive numbers during occasional droughts when native trees fail to flower, forcing them to resort to orchard fruit which could be protected with netting.

Excellent means of protecting fruit orchards have been developed, but urban nuisances have not yet been studied sufficiently to find viable solutions. As flying fox experts, Justin Welbergen and Peggy Eby recently explained in their insightful article, Not in my backyard? How to live alongside flying foxes in urban Australiagrey-headed flying foxes can travel thousands of kilometers in a single year and quickly respond to changing conditions far beyond the boundaries of any one state. To resolve nuisances without loss of essential services, we must learn much more about what attracts them to specific roosts and how best to provide suitable alternatives when their choices create nuisances. (more…)

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Photographing North America’s Rarest Bat

An endangered Florida bonneted bat, America’s rarest bat, once thought to be extinct.

America’s rarest bat, the endangered Florida bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus), was once relatively common. It often lived in tile roofs of Coral Gables and Miami, and its loud, low-frequency echolocation calls made it easy to detect. The species declined sharply in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, and by the late 1970’s extinction was feared. Then in 1978 woodcutters found a male and seven females in a woodpecker cavity. Soon several more were found living in a backyard bat house.

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“The Pollinator” by Artist Rhea Groepper Pettit

"The Pollinator" by Rhea Groepper Pettit
Painting by Rhea Groepper Pettit

Rhea Groepper Pettit is an artist with “a passion for earth’s residents: people and other species.” She loves bats and has used some of Merlin’s photographs as a reference such as the yellow-winged bat titled “Dr. Tuttle’s Bat” that graces the cover of his new book, a mother bat with her pup titled  “We Are the Night”, a “Flying Bat”, and her latest, a Marianus flying fox feeding on the pollen of a flower titled “The Pollinator”. It’s part of her Endangered Species series of paintings.

A Marianus flying fox (Pteropus mariannus) pollinating a Frycinetia liana on the Island of Guam. This plant was traditionally used by Pacific Islanders to make fish traps.
Photo by Merlin Tuttle

Rhea says, “The purpose of my endangered species series is to shine a light on the reality that so many well known (common) species are in danger, and populations have been dwindling at an alarming rate. The problem is largely man-made; it is our responsibility to save them. When we lose a species, others suffer and imbalance ensues. By restoring nature’s balance, we will save animals, ourselves and our planet. Bittersweet to paint my favorite animals; I love studying their images while painting them, yet the reason they are part of this series is incredibly sad and frustrating.”

We love Rhea’s paintings and are thrilled to share them with you. “The Pollinator” prints are for sale, along with many others. Rhea generously donates 50% of the sales of her bat paintings and bat prints (where stated) to Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation.

Also find Rhea’s work at dailypaintworks.com/artists/rhea-groepper-5855/artwork

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Thai Temple Flying Fox Photography

Lyle’s flying fox and pup

Large flying foxes are always difficult to photograph, especially since they’re intensively hunted over their range. But in Thailand there are still several colonies of Lyle’s flying foxes (Pteropus lylei) that are protected by Buddhist monks. The bats have learned that they are safe when close to the monks’ quarters. And by also remaining close to the monks’ quarters we were able to photograph them much closer than usual, though it still required a great deal of searching for just the right individuals.

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