The Mackay region is lucky enough to have over 30 bat species call the area home. In the urban areas, the most common bat you’ll see is the Black Flying-Fox (Pteropus alecto), which is a larger species and can be seen in sizable numbers flying in the sky at dusk. Bats are social creatures and form nursery colonies to rear their young.
All bat species are unique and play a crucial role in the ecology of the environment. The majority of bat species eat insects and are appropriately called insectivores. Other bats prefer to eat nectar, pollen, fruit and seeds. These bats are called frugivores. And then there are bats who are omnivores, which eat both insects and fruits.
As bats fly from tree to tree in search of these foods, they distribute pollen and seeds. This regenerates woodlands and forests, and restores gaps in forested areas. This is also important in maintaining the genetic diversity of native plant species. Insectivorous bats provide an amazing service by eating a high number of insects - like mosquitoes and moths - each night, acting as natural insect control agents!
There are however some misconceptions about bats. Contrary to belief, bats are very clean and spend hours grooming themselves each day. Flying-foxes are noted to carry three viruses which have rarely infected humans. While three people have died from Australian bat lyssavirus over a 20 year period, more people have died from falling off ladders (7 deaths/year). This can be prevented by only handling bats if properly vaccinated. The other two viruses - Hendra and Menangle - are only transmitted by humans by horses and pigs respectively.
We can all coexist with these fascinating mammals by netting orchards and fruit trees, and by tagging barbed wire fencing. Or better yet, replace barbed wire with plain wire fencing.
The Mackay Conservation Group will be having a Beautiful Walk later in the year to see the Black Flying-Foxes up close. Stay tuned to the same bat-channel, same bat-time for more info!