A megabat: ‘Why, it’s practically a fox with wings’ | Helen Sullivan

Every night in Sydney, clouds of bats transfer throughout the sky. They time their journey so that there’s simply too little gentle to make out something greater than a silhouette – which is simply sufficient gentle with the intention to see, very clearly, the outlines of their legs and toes knocking collectively – an entrechat – as they flap their wings.

I’m undecided that I’ll ever cease having the very same thought of this: “Oh my God, you possibly can see their toes knocking collectively. Oh my God.”

The bats are how you already know the place you’re. Sydney’s bushes embrace a mixture of British oaks and pines, Brazilian Jacarandas and lots of sorts of smaller, inexperienced and silver shrubs that, till I moved right here, I regarded as distinctive of the western Cape in South Africa. They’ve proteas right here, too – or waratahs. However the bats give the sport away. They don’t use echolocation, however within the metropolis, they fly alongside routes that mirror roads.

Extra exactly, the bats are grey-headed flying foxes, one of many largest bat species: megabats. As soon as, in 1863, they have been named “grey-headed vampires”. In a single Nationwide Geographic video a single bat, wanting head-on on the digicam, opens its wings after which its pointy snout, in a means that’s distinctly like a vampire saying: “Ta-da”.

The rebranding from bat to fox is daring, however you possibly can think about the British fauna fanatic doing their PR: “Why, it’s practically a fox with wings!”

On their sundown journeys, they search for water. One of many methods they drink is to skim the floor of a river or pond, in order that their fur will get moist; they lick up the droplets. They eat fruit, nectar and blossoms. Their faces get coated in pollen: a yellow-headed megabat.

A grey-headed flying fox eating flower nectar
A grey-headed flying fox turning yellow because it eats flower nectar. {Photograph}: Andrew Mercer/Wikimedia

Like Sydney’s vegetation, its huge Centennial Park park nonetheless bears the marks of unusual colonial fantasies, and appears to maintain reproducing new ones. What stays in my thoughts of a current stroll there may be a sequence of stills – like the photographs within the piazza scene in A Room with a View, earlier than Lucy is overwhelmed by the warmth and violence – of a statue of a girl excessive up on a column, the entire fingers lacking from her hand. Brightly colored sports activities automobiles. A lady struggling to manage her horse.

Late at evening, the bats arrive on the large native fig tree exterior my residence. I take heed to the actual rustle because the power of their touchdown pulls the leafy branches down and the reverse swish because the branches rebound.

I used to imagine they have been residence eventually, wings closing to relaxation. However the truth is, they return to a different camp earlier than daybreak. Now, as a substitute, I think about the tree inverted and the bats right-way up, dancing with practiced restraint and their mouths stuffed with fruit.

Bats hanging the other way up.

“The Nature of … ” is a column by Helen Sullivan devoted to fascinating animals, bugs, crops and pure phenomena. Is there an intriguing creature or notably vigorous plant you assume would delight our readers? Tell us on Twitter @helenrsullivan or through e mail: [email protected]

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