Celebrating: International Bat Week!

A few Grey-headed Flying-foxes in a Red Ash (Alphitonia excelsa) tree, looking rather sparse in its foliage as it develops fruit. Image by Keith Horton. All rights reserved.

Growing Illawarra Natives provides information about growing local plants that will provide habitat for local fauna. For most people, this is about attracting beautiful birds, and sometimes bees and interesting insects, but bats aren't usually on the list. And in fact some people are so put off by the thought of having bats around that we decided not to emphasise them much on the website. 

BUT! It's International Bat Week, which is an annual celebration of the role of bats in nature (plus a few of us recently got to see a Grey-headed Flying-fox nursery camp). So I couldn't resist doing a post about our local bats, which are such important contributors to the maintenance of ecosystems. Loss of habitat, along with heatwaves associated with climate change, is the major threat to many bat species including ones that occur in Illawarra, so we all have our parts to play in protecting their homes. 

This region is home to nineteen species of bat! Three are Flying-fox species, and the others are tiny little microbats, which flit around the canopy at night and enjoy a diet of moths and other insects. Some species are quite recent arrivals, perhaps as a result of climate change. You can read more about them all and see pictures on Garry Daly's article about mammals of the region (note how the word 'bats' isn't included in the title!). 

The Eastern Horseshoe Bat, one of 16 local micro-bat species, has a very distinctive horseshoe-shaped  nose. Image by Garry Daly. All rights reserved.

It's actually breeding season for the Grey-headed Flying-foxes, who have camps around the region. They camp in a range of tree species including Eucalypts, She-oaks (Casuarinas and Allocasuarinas) and assorted other sclerophyll and rainforest trees. The image below shows a mother and baby Grey-headed Flying-fox in a Pink Tips (Callistemon salignus) tree. 

Mother and baby Grey-headed Flying-foxes. Image by Keith Horton. All rights reserved.
Flying-foxes are important pollinators of many native species, including Eucalypts and rainforest trees. They rely on native forests for food and shelter, and in turn disperse seeds which contribute to maintenance and regeneration of native vegetation. If you're finding seedlings of Sandpaper Fig (Ficus coronata) in your garden, they might have grown from seed dropped there by a passing Flying-fox, together with a handy serve of fertiliser. Particularly if you live near remnant vegetation, adding a Eucalypt, some Paperbarks (Melaleucas) or even a Fig tree, could help keep the area hospitable for bats. 

Some people are (understandably) concerned about their personal safety around bats. As this beautiful and informative brochure from Shellharbour City Council explains, there is very little public health risk from bats as long as there's no handling or direct contact with them. Just keep your distance, and if you see a bat that's in trouble, contact WIRES for assistance.

Happy International Bat Week, and check out this webpage for more resources (mostly US-based)!  

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