By Anne Stelling, Parklands Albury Wodonga
The presence of bats tells much about the health of the environment. Where there are bats, there is bounty!
Where there are microbats, there are plenty of insects. Microbats are primary predators of night-flying insects, using a sonar system of echolocation to navigate precisely and catch insects, all at high speed. They need up to three-quarters of their bodyweight in insects, every night. An environment providing that many insects for bats must be a healthy one, with diverse native plant species in all stages of growth and decay supporting nectar feeding, sap-sucking and decay dependent insect lifecycles.
Where there are bats, there is good shelter nearby. Microbats shelter during the day in tree cracks, in gaps between peeling bark and tree trunks and in hollows – another reason mature trees and dead branches in the landscape are precious.
Sleeping by day, microbats transform into aerial acrobats at night, emerging from cracks and tiny hollows to hunt. They eat a wide range of insects, including mosquitoes, moths and beetles, helping to keep their numbers in check.
Albury Wodonga is also home to the megabats or flying-fox family. These are large fruit eating bats, specialising in fruit, nectar and pollen from a variety of native plants, and domestic fruit trees. Both the Grey-headed Flying-fox and the Little Red Flying fox live here, sometimes together, with the Grey species notable for being the largest in the family.
Unlike microbats, flying-foxes don’t echolocate, they use their keen eyesight and sense of smell to find fruiting and flowering trees. Nectar, blossoms and native fruits are their preferred food. They are very social and well known for forming large noisy camps and chatting loudly while they feed at night. Flying-foxes camped on the river at Albury have been known to feed on flowering eucalypts in Chiltern at night. They are adept at finding their favourite foods, and happy to travel!
Flying-foxes assist in pollinating and dispersing seed of flowering and fruiting trees, performing the unique service of night pollination, which some native species require.
All bats need safe places to roost and an ample supply of food, provided by rich and diverse native vegetation. With the Grey-headed Flying-fox now listed as vulnerable in NSW and Victoria, it’s time to look out for bats; save hollows, plant the natives they need, and create safe bush spaces.