Books & Bats in Bendigo

Books & Bats in Bendigo






I could smell them before I could see them. Not that they are that difficult to spot as they are quite large creatures. And they’re quite noisy too, all chattering away. There were several hundred of them in the colony. They looked like strange, dark fruit pods dangling from the tallest branches of the trees: wild, grey-headed fruit bats. It was quite comical at times watching them hanging upside down whilst the strong winds disconcertingly see-sawed the tree branches they were hanging onto like some kind of catapult-thrill ride at a fun fair.

This colony of bats has only very recently set up camp in Bendigo’s Rosalind Park, not far from the centre of town. Grey-headed fruit bats are the largest bats native to Australia but they are relative newcomers to the Melbourne area; it’s thought that they might perhaps be increasingly drawn to the urban areas because of the heat. I’ve always been interested in bats since I was a child. I remember going to a children’s lecture on bats with my sister at the Zoological Society in London. And, of course, we’d visited the fruit bats in the ‘nocturnal creatures’ enclosure at London Zoo on many occasions; but this was the first time I’d ever seen so many fruit bats all together in the wild. Unlike the tiny wild bats which live in the UK these fruit bats don’t use echolocation to pin-point their food, instead they have a highly developed sense of smell which they use when they go out foraging at night, covering vast distances when they do. Subsisting entirely on fruit and nectar they perform an important function in the ecosystem, helping to pollinate the plants they feed upon.

 







These weren’t the first wild fruit bats I’d ever seen though. The first bats of this kind which I’d seen were in Egypt. Egyptian fruit bats, interestingly enough, are unique among the fruit bat species as they do still retain their echolocation skills because they often live in caves and so they still need their sonar to navigate in the dark amidst the narrow rock faces. I remember inadvertently disturbing a small group of these bats when entering a small ruined side temple at Karnak. My friend and I became aware of a movement above us and we looked up to see the bats dangling from the ancient stone ceiling directly over our heads. Naturally enough they looked a more muted brown and dusty colour compared to the bats I saw in Bendigo, which had very shiny black, leathery wings and bright red, soft furry bodies – it’s easy to see why they are called ‘flying foxes’ by some people. They are quite large animals and so it’s quite a strange feeling to see them clearly looking back at you just as inquisitively. Unlike the bats in Egypt, the bats in Australia congregate out in the open, roosting in the treetops (much to the chagrin of many of the local residents of Bendigo, so I was told, as they do create quite a stink). When they do all take to the wing at night, however, it is truly an impressive sight to behold.