By Casey Neill
Doveton is home to a 40,000-strong bat colony.
Rodney van der Ree from the Australasian Bat Society said the grey-headed flying foxes took up residence along Dandenong Creek about five to seven years ago.
“They roost colonially in groups,” he said.
“There’s only two groups in Melbourne – one at Doveton and one at Yarra Bend.
“Melbourne’s been the primary site, but there’s now as many bats in Doveton as there are in Melbourne proper.”
Mr van der Ree is involved in the Australasian Bat Night program, which runs each autumn and is designed to raise awareness and appreciation of bats.
Participants count the bats as they fly out for the night, and organisers debunk myths and fears surrounding the mammals.
“They’re a beautiful animal,” he said.
“They might smell a little bit but they’re pretty smart animals – one of the smartest for their little brain size.
“They’ve got these amazing social systems and they know who’s who in the zoo.
“Somehow they communicate to each other that there’s food available.
“They remember where their camps are around the countryside.”
He said people were “more likely to get run over by a bus than catch diseases from bats”.
“As long as you don’t pick up bats that might be on the ground – because they’re probably sick – the chances are very small of getting any diseases,” he said.
Mr van der Ree said the bats generally set up camp near water, so Dandenong Creek and stormwater treatment wetlands likely attracted them.
He said proximity to food was also a factor, and hot demand for food at Yarra Bend could have sent them searching for more elsewhere.
They eat nectar and pollen from flowers and fruit.
“They love spotted gums, they love Moreton Bay figs,” Mr van der Ree said.
“They’re really important from an ecology perspective.
“They spread seed around, and pollinate.”
The next flying-fox count in Doveton will be held at 7pm on Tuesday 6 March.
Participants meet on Floriana Avenue at Dandenong Creek about 30 minutes before dusk.
There are also counts scheduled for Tuesday 10 April at 5.30pm, Tuesdays 1 and 29 May at 5.15pm.
The project helps to understand the movements and ecology of the grey-headed flying fox.
Australasian Bat Society president Dr Justin Welbergen said: “We have many of our experienced people giving talks on bats, providing advice on how to look after bats that come into care, and demonstrating the building of bat roost boxes.”
“There is also interactive play and craft for kids, bat exhibitions, and a chance for people to meet a microbat or flying-fox up close.”
For more information call Australasian Bat Night co-ordinator Maree Treadwell Kerr on 0412 311 403, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ausbats.org.au/australasian-bat-night.