November 10, 2015 Mammals No Comments

(Pteropus alecto)

Black flying foxes. Photo © Vivien Jones

Black flying foxes. Image © Vivien Jones

The black flying fox was first described by Temminck in 1837 from a specimen from Menado, Indonesia. In 1867, Peters described a black flying fox from Rockhampton.

The south-eastern limit of black flying foxes has been moving southwards for at least 60 years. In 1930, the southern limit was Rockhampton and in 1960 it was the Tweed River, northern NSW.

By 2002 they could be found further south than Port Macquarie.

The black flying fox is the largest of the four mainland species in terms of body size in Australia.


  • Jet black fur but some variation does occur
  • Chocolate-brown patch of fur is often seen on the back of its neck and shoulders
  • Brownish fur around eyes and on face
  • Some have frosting of greyish tips all over their body, particularly on the belly
  • The lower leg is unfurred
  • Wingspan about 1m
  • Average weight of 500–1000g
  • Head–body length 230–280mm


  • Wide range of habitats of tropical and subtropical forests and woodlands.


Life history
  • Black flying foxes can live up to 20 years in the wild.
  • In southern Queensland, adults mate in March and April, females become pregnant before dispersing for the winter months.
  • Congregate into camps from early to late summer where the young are born and raised.
  • Young are carried by the female until about 4 weeks of age and then left at the roost while the mother forages at night.
  • Young begin to fly at 8 weeks of age but depend on their mothers for at least 3 months.
  • Fly out at dusk to feed on blossoms and fruits.
  • Prefer blossom of eucalypts, paperbarks and turpentines, as well as a variety of other native and introduced blossom and fruits.
  • Have been seen to eat the leaves of trees by chewing the leaves into a bolus, swallowing the liquid and then spitting out the fibre.
  • During the day, black flying-foxes roost on tree branches in camps and fly out at dusk to feed.
  • Main camps form in summer and may contain tens to hundreds of thousands of individuals, depending on local food availability.
  • Can hold and manipulate food with clawed thumbs.
  • They will wrap their wings around themselves if cold or wet.

Home range
  • Groups will travel up to 50km from their camps to foraging areas and will use the same camp for many years.


  • Black flying foxes are found around the northern coast of Australia and inland wherever permanent water is found in rivers.


  • Habitat loss
  • Killing for crop protection
  • Barbed wire fences, powerlines


  • Least Concern in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992).
  • Least Concern, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016.

Fascinating black flying fox fact

Unusually, a colony of about 600 black flying foxes was found roosting on the vertical walls of a deep limestone shaft in Chillagoe caves, near Mareeba.

Some bats were roosting as far as 10m down from the top.

More information

  • Hall, L. & Richards, R. (2000). Flying-foxes and fruit and blossom bats of Australia. Australian Natural History Series. UNSW Press.
  • Menkhorst, P. & Knight, F. (2004) A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. Oxford University Press.


Written by Wildlifeqld