Health Matters,  Life Matters

Flowering gums and flying foxes

I am fortunate to live in a treed area in Toowoomba with flowering gums. They are tall and stately trees mostly found in the bush, but one is in the corner of our backyard. There are also a few other trees nearby on neighbouring properties. Where we live was developed around 30 years ago and many mature trees were preserved.

We bought our home in February 2016 but did not move in until a few months later. One night in February we stayed overnight (air mattress). My sleep was disturbed by what I thought was possums moving around at night. Life went on and it did not occur to me that we had flying-foxes, nomadic mammals, visiting our place every February. It was due to the flowering gums. Our flying-fox visitors always arrive at this time of the year to feast on the nectar and pollen from the flowers. This year the flying-foxes arrived a few days earlier, late January.

The stately flowering gum tree at our place. Then there is another nextdoor to us.

What I dislike about the flying-foxes annual visit to our place is the noise they make. The tree is about 6-7 metres from our bedroom. We can hear their leathery wings flapping, the squealing and shrieking as they feed and squabble for the nectar and pollen. But, I have the answer, ear plugs! I have found soft ones that if inserted into my ears correctly will block out most of the noise and allow me to enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep. I could still hear the smoke alarm if it went off, so no problem there!

There are seven flying fox species in Australia: the Grey-headed Flying-fox; the Speckled Flying-fox; the Christmas Island Flying-fox; the Black Flying-fox; the Little Red Flying-fox; the Large Eared Flying-fox; and the Bare-Backed Fruit Bat. The Grey-headed, the Black and the Little Red are common in South East Queensland, where I live. The Grey-headed, the Speckled and the Christmas Island Flying-foxes are vulnerable species and nationally protected by Australian Government legislation.  Irrespective of the national listing for these species, state governments consider all these little critters (flying-foxes) to be protected native species.

While some of us might consider flying-foxes a nuisance, depending where they reside, they are an important part of the Australian eco system. One of these is spreading seeds and pollinating plants.

We are surrounded by flowering gums. The outlook is very serene but at this time of the year nature is noisy.

It is a contentious topic as to whether bats can pass on infectious diseases to humans. Yet, increasingly there is more evidence that flying-foxes (bats) are behind infectious diseases such as SARS and Ebola. In Queensland several years ago, the Hendra virus went from flying-foxes to horses and then from horses to humans. Four people died in the 2009 outbreak, two of the four were veterinarians. The other flying-fox infectious disease documented in Australia is Lyssavirus. If you are up to it you can watch the video below to see and hear the sounds of fruit bats (flying-foxes) recorded in Australia by John Fredeen.

There is a conversation at the moment about flying-foxes (bats) and their role in transmitting viruses to humans. As it happens, scientists are investigating a new outbreak of Coronavirus with the likelihood that flying-foxes are the hosts of the virus. However, the only way viruses can be spread is by saliva, urine or faeces from an infected bat. Therefore, it is important not to handle a flying-fox. For example, the one that got caught in the netting covering your fruit tree or in your wire fence.

My reading on the subject tells me that the infection risk from flying-foxes (bats) to humans is low unless a person is bitten or scratched. If this is the case, immediate medical attention is needed. Also, people with rainwater tanks can have their water contaminated by flying-fox faeces. These can wash off the roof and into the tank.

More scientific research is required on flying-foxes and their risk to humans. I am sure we will hear more about this is the months ahead now that the World Health Organisation has declared a global health emergency due to the new Coronavirus outbreak. In the meantime, I will leave our little visiting critters (flying-foxes) undisturbed even though they are disturbing me.

P.S. Once the flying-foxes go to roost for the day the Rainbow Lorikeets move in to feast on the nectar and pollen from the flowering gums. I am not sure who makes the most noise the flying-foxes or the birds. Ear plugs still in, so it is back to sleep for me.

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