The grey-headed flying fox is a mega-bat native to Australia and is our largest bat.
Adults have an average wingspan up to 1 metre (3.3 ft) and can weigh up to 1 kg (2.2 lb). There are more than 60 varieties of bat in Australia. Most of them eat insects, except for the 8 species known at fruit bats or flying foxes who like to eat fruit nectar and pollen.
Fruit bat, mega bat or flying fox? You'll hear the grey-headed flying fox being called Mega-bats, fruit bats and flying foxes, but they are all one and the same. Which is very confusing, as the Flying Foxes are not at all related to foxes, whole fruit is not part of their daily diet and they are very different to the "general" variety of bat!
In fact, the Flying Fox is closer in DNA to monkeys and humans than they are to the smaller (or micro) bats that are seen in the horror movies. Australia's megabat has excellent eyesight during both daytime and at night-time, they hang around in trees rather than in caves, they are vegetarian - preferring to eat nectar and pollen and they don't hibernate during the winter.
Lyssavirus In Australia, people who handle bats are at risk of catching the Australian bat lyssavirus; a disease that is related to, but is not, rabies. In Queensland there have been 3 reported deaths related to the Lyssavirus.
There's a sign near the colony that warns people to not touch them. Vaccines and post-infection treatments are effective, but the easiest way to be protected from the virus is to avoid handling the bats - whether they are alive or dead.
Lyssavirus is transmitted by being bitten, scratched or being splashed in your eyes, mouth or nose by a bat's blood or urine.
If you are scratched, splashed on or bitten by a bat, seek urgent medical help.
In the early years of the 20th Century, bat numbers were in the several million. Most recent scientific evidence shows that bat numbers are now approximately 300,000. The grey-headed flying fox is a protected species nationally.
It's possible that the grey-headed flying foxes that are currently making Botanic Park their home due to their displacement from Queensland and New South Wales where their habitat is being cleared and there is a critical lack of food.
If you come across a sick or injured grey-headed flying fox, do not attempt to pick it up or touch it in any way. Sick and stressed wild animals will scratch or bite when handled, The best thing to do is to contact the Department of Environment or Adelaide Bat Care for advice and emergency assistance.
Adelaide Bat Care is a voluntary service that offers a 24 hour rescue service. You can reach them on 0422 182 443 or 8353 4443
Where are they exactly?
The bats are in the tall pine trees just outside of the Adelaide Zoo in Botanic Park, just off Frome Road in the city. They can easily be seen if you stand on the footbridge that leads to the zoo.
The grey-headed flying fox is nomadic and it's not known how long they will stay. I first saw them in Botanic Park in May 2013 and they were still there in February 2014. They could be there for another week, another month or another year - it's impossible to know when they will decide to leave. Go and have a look and enjoy the free nature show while it's here.
There's also a very large enclosure of the grey-headed flying foxes at the Gorge Wildlife Park. The park is open every day of the year (weather permitting) and you can visit these interesting, if not very smelly, mammals all year round.
Timely advice Paula - I was listening to the radio at the time of the first heatwave when a wildlife/fauna rescue rep came on to advise on a large number of bats dying and being found on the grounds of Botanic Park.
She was pleading with listeners to heed her warnings re: risk of contamination. Just hearing the words 'Hendra Virus' sent shivers down my spine. Interesting what you said about their DNA too - makes sense on how humans manage to be contaminated easily.
Apparently the risk of death to bats in heatwaves increases as their behaviour is to cluster together during times of heat stress and suffocate each other.... hopefully we're over the worst of it now (heatwave that is)!