Frequently asked questions

Why do bats live in urban areas?

Historically, Grey-headed Flying-foxes were nomadic animals that moved great distances across the landscape following the flowering and fruiting of their preferred food. However they now occupy some areas continuously, including large urban centres of Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Grey-headed Flying-foxes have adapted successfully to the loss of their natural areas by exploiting human-altered environments. The diverse garden plantings in our urban environments provide readily-available food resources.

How can Grey-headed Flying-foxes be threatened when their numbers are increasing in South Australia?

Grey-headed Flying-foxes are moving into South Australia from other areas. Although their numbers are increasing locally, their overall population size continues to decline.

Why don’t we cull bats to eliminate disease risk?

Culling bat populations to mitigate disease risk to humans and livestock is ineffective, and can even increase the risk of disease transmission. Culling bats is also only a temporary measure as new bats move quickly into control areas (see also: Information for primary producers in South Australia).

Grey-headed Flying-foxes are not the only species of bat in South Australia that can potentially carry diseases. Removing flying foxes does not necessarily mean that some diseases are no longer in the landscape. It is important that people not handle flying foxes or other bats species (see also: Disease risk).

History has shown that in places like Sydney, it has been possible for large numbers of flying-foxes to occur in close proximity with people and pose a low risk in regard to disease. This, coupled with the vital role flying-foxes play in the pollination and seed dispersal for many native plants means that culls to eliminate disease risk are unwarranted and likely to be counterproductive.  

Will bats contaminate my drinking water?

It is important to be aware of the potential health risks regarding interactions with any wildlife. Droppings from many animals, including bats, can land on your roof and be washed into rainwater tanks. First flush diverters are recommended to reduce contaminates from entering your tank; see SA Health’s rainwater fact sheet for more information.

Why are they here in South Australia?

The movement of Grey-headed Flying-foxes into South Australia in 2010 is thought to be have been driven by tough environmental conditions in other parts of their range.

The loss of feeding and roosting habitat, increased competition for food with other species of flying foxes and the effects of climate change are other factors possibly associated with their movements into South Australia.

Urbanisation of Grey-headed Flying-fox populations also seems to be increasing, which influences their distribution, abundance and ecology.

Urban areas dramatically increase the quantity and temporal availability of food resources, including from garden and street trees. The arrival and establishment of a permanent Grey-headed Flying-fox camp in Adelaide is consistent with broader trends in movements southwards and towards urban environments.

Are there any other flying fox species in South Australia?

Australia has four native flying fox species from the fruit bat family, or Pteropodidae, including: Little Red Flying-fox, Black Flying-fox, Spectacled Flying-fox and Grey-headed Flying-fox. The Little Red Flying-fox has also been recorded in South Australia but only infrequently and in low numbers; it has no continuous presence in South Australia.

When will they go? How long will they stay?

Grey-headed Flying-foxes now have a permanent camp in Adelaide City.

In South Australia, Grey-headed Flying-foxes commonly visit a variety of trees including gums (e.g. lemon-scented gums and spotted gums), mulberries, figs and date palms. If people have these plants they can reasonably expect them to be visited by bats during their flowering and fruiting seasons. Bats will use these foods until the trees have finished flowering/fruiting and then the bats move on to find resources elsewhere.

What if I find a bat on the ground during an extreme heat day?

If you find a bat on the ground during an extreme heat day (or at any time) do not touch or rescue it. Please contact a wildlife rescue organisation such as Fauna Rescue or Adelaide Bat Care.

Are bats likely to be camping in my trees?

Bats may visit your trees at night to feed on the flowers or fruits, and return each night until the resource is depleted. Bats can feed quietly or squabble with other bats when competing for food or water. They may drop blossoms or fruits on the ground, but otherwise leave little signs of their visit, and many urban gardens are visited without the resident’s knowledge.

Typically, a bat camp is one that flying foxes can be found roosting in during the day; occasionally, if bats roost in your tree during the day they may be protecting a food resource and will probably move away after the food is depleted. It is very uncommon for new permanent camp sites to be established.

How do I protect my trees (flowers and fruits) from Grey-headed Flying-foxes?

As with other fruit and flower visiting animals (e.g. rainbow lorikeets), Grey-headed Flying-foxes can be excluded from trees using crop netting, or from individual flowers or fruits with small nets or bags. Other deterrents such as strong smells or loud noises, may also be effective.

If they weren’t naturally here in South Australia, why haven’t you culled them?

Culling flying foxes is illegal in South Australia. The management technique is considered ineffective as a control and contrary to local and national conservation priorities.

Grey-headed Flying-foxes are a protected species in South Australia and they are also a nationally threatened species. They continue to decline despite adapting successfully to modified landscapes.

Because bats are nocturnal, culling activities are imprecise and bats are more likely to be injured than culled humanely by these actions. Destroying lactating females will also lead to the death of dependent pups at the camp via starvation.

Culling bats has only a temporary effect on local populations of flying foxes, and does not prevent damage to fruit crops because other individuals will move in to replace the removed ones.

Grey-headed Flying-foxes are only one of many species that are adjusting in numbers and adapting to the new landscapes that have been created as a result of European colonisation. Many species have not been able to adapt to the changed landscapes and have become regionally extinct. Despite not being an historic part of the Grey-headed Flying-foxes range, it is now recognised that Adelaide’s urban and peri-urban environments may play an important part in the long term conservation of this threatened species.

Further information


Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges