Ok, so to those of you that hate bats, hopefully I can change your mind with these two very cute photos. In inner Sydney an hour before sunset the sky is full of winged creatures called flying foxes (also known as a fruit bat), which is one of Australia’s mega-bats. This particular type is native to Australia and is called a Grey-headed flying fox (typically a grey head with a neck collar of orange-brown fur). These little guys might be bigger than you think, with adults having an average wingspan of 1 meter (3.3 ft). They settle on the giant fig trees when in fruit, and if you are anywhere near, you will hear them squabbling loudly at each other. Unlike micro-bats they don’t use sonar to get around, they use their eyes an ears like we do and can see in the dark as good as a cat can. If you watch them closely enough you will see how cute they are, hanging upside-down and watching you while munching on a fig, which also means they poke their tongue out a lot. To me the photo below is just like an adorable teddy bear. They love nectar, pollen and fruits and are vital to maintaining the ecosystem by dispersing the seeds. I hope you also see how adorable a bat can really be once you get past the whole night creature with leathery wings.
This is an Australian flying fox hanging on my parents garden fence. Australia has a few different species of flying fox, some of which are among the largest bats in the world. Some people may be horrified by this devilish-looking vampire-like creature, but actually they have a very cute face. They are fruit, flower and nectar eaters by night and by day they are busy sleeping (when they are not screeching at neighbors for space on overpopulated tree houses). They live in huge family groups which can have thousands of bats. Unlike most bats they do not use echolocation as they have great vision and are known to use geographical landmarks to find their way home. How did this bat end up in my parents yard in broad daylight? Well, my dad had realized that his figs were getting eaten (usually it’s the birds that get to them). So he covered the fig trees with netting to stop the birds from accessing the fruit. My mum awoke the next morning to find an angry bat tangled in the netting which had been trying to get to the fruit, and a very curious cat on the fence keeping a close eye on this mysterious find. She called my brother to get some scissors to cut the bat out of the netting, which he did, all the while trying not to get bitten by this agitated critter. After being freed from the net the exhausted bat hung on the fence a while to find the energy to fly away home. (Photo is courtesy of my mum.)
So this was an absolute treat…. About a week ago, this furry little bum showed up on a window sill at work. Completely perplexed by this round ball of golden colored fur, it took me a few minutes to figure out that what I was actually looking at was a bat! It was so tiny, like the size of a mouse. I watched closely to make sure he was breathing (as I thought originally that he might be dead), and I wondered what circumstances he had endured to be forced to spend his daily nap on our window sill. The poor little bugger looked so cold that I wished I could have given him a warm cuddle. I regularly checked on this little golden fur ball through out the day, hoping I would eventually see him fly off. Unfortunately, sometime as the sun was setting I missed the takeoff moment, but hoped he would have found his friends. This tiny little guy is very different from the bats I’m used to back in Australia. Some of our bats are much larger and are actually named flying foxes (although we have about 75 species of bats of all different sizes!). Flying foxes are large black bats with a mane of golden fur around their necks, they are seen throughout Sydney. The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney was home to a very large colony of flying foxes (over 20,000 of them at times) which took up residence on few leafless trees, completely destroyed to accommodate their numbers. They were incredibly loud, constantly squabbling as they tried to find sleeping room on those poor trees. They have since moved on, but it was always an amazing sight to see and hear so many bats in one place!