A close up of a spectacled flying fox.

A spectacled flying fox.

Life after Larry: CSIRO searching for missing flying foxes

Reference: 06/180

Scientists in Far North Queensland are calling for public help in locating tens of thousands of spectacled flying foxes that took flight in the aftermath of Cyclone Larry.

  • 15 September 2006

Atherton-based CSIRO zoologist Dr Louise Shilton is investigating how flying foxes have responded to the habitat disturbance caused by the cyclone in March this year, and is seeking community support to find out where the bats have gone.

“From our monitoring program in the Wet Tropics over the last two years, we know that a large proportion of these animals relocate in winter and spring, but this year they left up to three months earlier than usual, about a week after Cyclone Larry,” Dr Shilton says.

“We are only recording one third of the number of bats we would normally expect to see at this time of year.”

Dr Shilton’s research is being funded by the Tropical Landscapes Joint Venture between CSIRO and James Cook University. The project is part an initiative headed by Professor Steve Turton to examine the environmental impacts of Cyclone Larry.

“Thanks to reports from several Cairns residents we’ve found small groups of these animals in suburban backyards, but for the most part we’ve got no idea where the flying foxes have relocated to,” Dr Shilton says.

“They could be anywhere from Cape York to Townsville and as far inland as Chillagoe.”

It’s also possible that spectacled flying foxes are roosting and moving around with little red or black flying foxes.

“We are appealing to members of the public to report any unusual flying fox sightings, even if they are not sure what type of flying fox they are, we’d like to know where and when flying foxes have been seen,” Dr Shilton says.

The bats normally roost by day and feed at night, but since Cyclone Larry they have been seen in flight and feeding in the afternoon daylight, which suggests that these typically nocturnal animals are taking greater risks to get sufficient food.

“We are only recording one third of the number of bats we would normally expect to see at this time of year.”

Love ’em or loathe ’em, Dr Shilton says collecting information on where these animals have moved to, and what they are feeding on, could help reduce potential conflict between people and flying foxes.

“Flying foxes create management issues at fruit orchards and in the urban environment – any information we receive now may help us manage possible problems in the longer-term,” Dr Shilton says.

If you have seen individual or groups of flying foxes in your area since Cyclone Larry, Dr Shilton would like to hear from you – on 07 4091 8824.  In particular, she would like to know about animals at locations where they have never been seen before, anywhere from Cape York, across the Wet Tropics, south of Townsville and further inland.

Read more media releases in our Media Centre