There are 2 types of bats—microbats and megabats (including flying foxes)—which are thought to have evolved separately and are classified as 2 distinct groups of animals.

  • Microbats are small to medium-sized bats (weighing from 3g to 150g with wingspans around 25cm). They mostly eat insects.
  • Flying foxes are the largest members of the megabat group (weighing up to 1kg with wingspans of up to 1m). They mostly eat fruit.

Flying mammals

Bats are the only group of mammals that are capable of flying by flapping their wings, rather than just gliding. They belong to the scientific group (Order) Chiroptera. This means 'hand wing' and refers to the specialised features that allow bats to fly. Their ‘winged hands’ are made up of greatly extended bones in their forelimbs and fingers covered in a membrane of soft skin. The thumbs are clawed and used for climbing and grooming. Bats’ wings have evolved to be very efficient in flight. Many microbats are able to hover, catch prey while flying, and even fly backwards to avoid danger.

Safety issues

Catching diseases from bats is extremely unlikely. However, it is important to avoid handling bats as Australian bat lyssavirus (ABL) can be transmitted through untreated bites or scratches from infected bats. There have been fatalities in Australia from ABL but it is treatable by post-exposure vaccine. Anyone bitten or scratched by a bat should seek medical attention immediately.

Flying foxes can transmit the fatal hendra virus to horses. Infected horses can also transmit hendra virus to humans and this has unfortunately resulted in a number of fatalities. There is no evidence that humans can catch hendra virus directly from flying foxes.

Avoid handling bats

If you find a sick, injured or orphaned bat, do not touch it. Contact your local wildlife care organisation or the RSPCA Qld who will put you in contact with a licensed and fully vaccinated wildlife rescuer who is trained to handle and care for wildlife.

Contact us if the situation relates to a ‘C3 bat’ (a bat that has bitten or scratched a person, or the person has had exposure to the bat’s saliva or neural tissue through their mucous membranes, e.g. eye, skin).