Tolga Bat Hospital - Orphan With Maggots  

We get up to 300 pups through the hospital each tick season, many of them orphans. We foster out as many orphans as possible but are usually left with over 100 pups at the hospital itself. The fostered pups return to us around New Year for creching and release.

We are able to reunite some with their mothers. This is usually an arduous process. By the time the mother has recovered from tick paralysis, her milk has usually dried up. With the pup on her, it will usually take about 4 days for her to begin lactating again. During this time we need to remove the pup for regular feeds, although some mothers will let you feed the pup while still on them. Once the milk supply is re-established, the pup still needs to be removed daily for weighing, to check that there is enough milk. Even when the weight gain looks good, it is still wise to continue weighing the pup every week. Sometimes the weight gain is because the pup has begun eating the adult food, not because of the mother's milk supply. We always release the mothers with pups through the release cage with the other pups. If the mother can't adjust back to the wild with the pup, both the pup and the mother know they can return to the cage for support feeding.

Photo: Orphan with fly eggs on back. Unless rescued, maggots would start eating this baby alive.

The pups of mums with tick paralysis generally do well despite their difficult start::

  • Tolga Bat Hospital - Orphan
    Pup cannot feed normally as mum is unwell. Mum usually falls to the ground with baby still attached, although the older pup, 8 weeks and over, is often separated. These pups may remain up/climb back up in the canopy and ladder/pole rescues become necessary, though not always possible. It is very sad to hear them crying out for their mother, who is by now dead from tick paralysis or in the hospital. Many of them are hoarse or lose their voices temporarily, and many of the older pups die up in the canopy.
  • Pup is often rescued with maggots or fly eggs and these must be removed. It is important to re-check these babies for more eggs/maggots over the next few days. A mild pyrethrin spray and antibiotics is sometimes necessary.
  • Pup is often dehydrated and needs fluid replacement. This can usually be achieved orally but sometimes it is necessary to inject fluids into the peritoneum or subcutaneously.
  • Pup is weighed and the forearm measured.
  • Pup is fed human infant formula (for infants over 6 months) or full cream cow's milk (with added glucodin) 2-4 hourly depending on age and condition. A botttle and teat is used. If pup is young or a poor feeder we use a syringe to drip the milk into the teat.
  • Fruit is introduced at about 8 weeks but milk is still the mainstay. In the wil , they would have little access to fruit until they can fly. Begin with softer fruits like papaw, watermelon, banana and rockmelon. By now our pups are drinking milk from self-feeders and are in the outside cage. Whole apples are hung on S-hooks, initially with wedges cut out so they can bite into it more easily. This encourages work / play for their food. Some people introduce cooked fruit but we don't find this necessary. It is very important that the pups have lots of opportunities for climbing and flapping.
  • In early January, about 10 bats at a time are taken to the release cage. This is a large dog crate winched up into the canopy. Orphans are kept inside the cage for 3 days. The cage is winched down each day to feed them. After 3 days these bats are put outside and another 10 bats are put inside. This process is repeated as many times as necessary to bring all the orphans out to the colony. We believe the presence of the orphans inside the cage encourages the outside orphans to return - as well as the presence of food. The release cage is in a section of the colony used by many mothers with babies. Our orphans can fly out with their wild peers, learning with them about bush tucker and gaining strength and endurance in flight. It is vital they integrate into the social structure of the colony.
  • Daily feeding is continued for at least a month after the last orphans are put outside. The food is then reduced. They are fed less frequently as well as a lesser amount. Often in June we will still go out once a week and have 30 or so bats come down to the cage when it is winched back up. The success of the release is evident by the numbers of orphans from previous years returning to the cage.
Tolga Bat Hospital - Weighing Orphans


This is general information for rearing flying fox orphans, based on our experience with rearing 3 of Australia's 4 fruit bat species - Pteropus conspicillatus (Spectacled flying fox), alecto (Black flying fox) and scapulatus (Little Red flying fox). The first two species are born around October/November each year at about 60 -100gms (adult size 700 -1000gms), while the Little Reds are born around May at about 45gms (adult size 300 - 400gms).
Young flying foxes may be orphaned in a number of different ways - the mother has either died (eg tick paralysis, barbed wire, electric shock on powerlines, other trauma), rejected the baby (eg birth abnormalities) or for unknown reasons.

Tolga Bat Hospital - Orphan 2

In Australia carers need to be vaccinated for Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV). The risk is extremely low, but orphans have come into care in some parts of Australia with this rabies-like disease. You will need to enquire in your own country as to the risks associated with being bitten or scratched by a flying fox there.
It is important to remember that you pose a risk to the orphan if you are unvaccinated - the Health Departments in Australia will want to euthanase the bat for testing if you are bitten or scratched.

Photo: Pru Harvey. It is very difficult not to get the backs of your hands covered in scratches when handling lots of orphans.

Assess the orphan and ensure it is warm.

Consider obvious trauma such as fractures - look for asymmetries.
  • Dehydration. Pinch up some skin between the shoulder blades of the orphan. When released, the skin should return to a normal position very quickly. It will return slowly if the orphan is dehydrated. The eyes may also look sunken, though this will also happen if the bat has lost a lot of weight. If dehydrated you will need to replace fluids quickly. Oral fluids are enough for mild dehydration, but fluids by injection may be required for more serious cases - intraperitoneal is best, but subcutaneous administration is often adequate. Rehydration may need to occur over several days. Do not offer milk until bat is adequately rehydrated. If pup has come off a live mum, the chances of dehydration are a lot less than if she's come of a dead mum or found lone.

  • Search for fly eggs and maggots. These can be removed manually with a comb, toothbrush or small paintbrush. They can also be washed off under a tap. Dry the wings thoroughly afterwards, especially on the inside along the body. Look out also for mites - it is best to get rid of them. We use a drop of Revolution. Keep bub separate from others and change bedding frequently until mites are gone.

  • Weigh orphan and measure forearm - to help determine the age, and have a baseline to know if the orphan is thriving.

  • Is it possible to re-unite pup with its Mother ? Sometimes a baby may have become separated from its mother during a predator attack for example. Can the baby be hung up in a tree if the mother is calling - either immediately or the following early evening.

We like to base our care of the orphan as closely as possible to its experience in the wild.

For the first 5 weeks or so, flying fox young are worn on their mother's belly all the time, the mouth firmly on the nipple most of the time. Mum is opening her wing to let baby have some sun and toileting bub regularly. From about 4-5 weeks, the young are too heavy to be carried out on the nightly foraging for food. The young are left in the day roost trees of the camp where they begin to become quite active and socialise with each other. Eventually by about 10 weeks they are flapping and climbing and beginning to take short flights.

Flying Foxes are very intelligent and affectionate mammals. Like human babies, they need a routine involving good care and nutrition. To prepare them for release back to the wild, they need to reach milestones of development that closely mimic their wild peers. If you have no experience caring for young flying foxes, please contact us and we can put you in contact with someone in your area - or look in our Contact List. In Australia you will need a wildlife care permit and Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV) vaccination. To give the bat the best chance of a surviving, from about 5 weeks of age it will need other young bats with which to socialise.

To care for an orphan you will need:

MILK. Many flying fox carers in Australia are now using full cream cows milk (fresh or powdered) with added glucose. Add 1 teaspoon of glucodin to 200 mls of milk. Others are still using human infant formula, preferably for pups 6 months and over. Mix according to instructions on can. Only mix enough milk for 24 hours and keep in the fridge. Heat enough milk for each feed and test warmth of milk on the back of your wrist.

Tolga Bat Hospital - Wrapped Bat  

We use a 21 gauge hot needle to make a hole in the end of the teat. Before putting the teat on the bottle, fill the teat with water - it should drip through the hole slowly, rather than run in a stream. When pups are very young, or poor feeders, we syringe the milk through the teat, rather than put the teat on a bottle. Make sure the syringe plunges smoothly. We prefer to use 10ml syringes, or 20 ml glass bottles. The hole for a bottle teat can be a little bigger. You may need to let air into the teat if it collapses while feeding ie release the teat around the neck of the botltle.

Sit quietly with pup and position on its side with head lower than body. We will often wrap the baby for feeding but this is not necessary once the pup feels secure. Pups remain wrapped until toiletting after the feed, then put on a sock mother in the box.

Never allow the baby to blow milk out its nose - check the hole in the teat is not too big. The hole in the teat will get bigger with use, change teat as often as necessary. Please contact an experienced carer if pup has trouble feeding, as a young orphan can readily contract aspiration pneumonia. An orphan with a cleft palate cannot feed without milk going "up its nose" - if this is suspected, check the roof of the mouth for a deep gutter defect, or occasionally a pinhole defect just behind the top teeth. This problem appears to be rare, though there have been occasional years when large numbers of Spectacled flying foxes pups have been affected.

WATER We offer the small pups water in hot weather though they rarely take much. However a fluid replacement solution like Vytrate is very popular. A pup that has come in dehydrated will be given water an hour or so before a feed for a few days. Once pups are on the self-feeders, there is always fresh and slightly salted water on hand for them. Like the adults in care, the pups usually prefer salt water to fresh. We put 1 teaspoon of seasalt (ground up) to 1 litre of water.

Tolga Bat Hospital -Bat Orphan   By the time orphans are feeding about 10 mls per feed, many have learned to demand feed from self-feeders (sold in pet shops as water bottles, animals lick from a tube that contains 2 ball bearings). Most pups are independently hanging and using self-feeders by the time they weigh 200 gms, or at about 7 weeks of age. This is also usually the age they go to the outside cage.

The orphan's stomach should be rounded but not obese. The amount taken each feed should increase by about 4-5 mls per day per week (ie increase of about 1 ml per feed). Be guided by its weight / growth gains. See below for weight / growth estimates at different ages.
If you don't have a teat, young flying foxes will readily lick milk from a syringe, eye dropper or small dish. Sucking is an instinctive behaviour for this breast-fed mammal, and probably as in humans, an important part of oro-motor development. We believe they need the opportunity to use a teat and in many cases a dummy (just a short teat without a hole). Individual bats, like some humans, settle very quickly with a dummy and feel insecure without it. Young bats spend a lot of time on their mother suckling. They can make do with sucking on cloth, but must be watched for sucking on other orphans - usually the ear or penis! This can do a lot of damage.

HOUSING. A newborn flying fox orphan will need a heating pad, a 'sock mother', some towels and a cardboard box, basket or cage. A sock mother is a sock stuffed with polyester fill and stitched across at about anklebone level. It hangs from the edge of box (we use a large nappy pin or clamp) so that some of the sock lies on the bottom of the box. Pup can choose to hang or lie cuddling up to this artificial mother. Do not wrap pups between feeds.


Tolga Bat Hospital - Small Pups

The set-up is very simple but can take a while to get everything right. We use an electric heating pad 30 by 40 cms with sufficient layers of towel that the pup stays warm but not overheated. The heating pad is placed down the sides/bottom of the box in a U-shape. Small clamps are used to keep the towels secure over the edge of the box. Pups will be content to be in a box cuddling up to the sock mother and perhaps with a dummy. We use a top sheet (also clamped) that is changed whenever soiled. The towel layers can often remain in situ for a week or more. This photo looking down into the box gives you a general idea.

However a box is not a very visually stimulating environment and the pup will be ready to be moved into a cage set-up fairly quickly. We notice the pups peeping over the edge of the box when they are ready to be moved out. You can put a piece of rigid wire mesh over the box for pups to move on - the depth of the box is critical so their heads need to clear the bottom of the box.

  Tolga Bat Hospital - Bat With Heated Pad

We have a cage structure that hangs from a towel rail above a bathtub. It makes cleaning very easy as well as providing the pups with lots of space to move. It has compartments that allow babies to progress from their boxes/baskets by about 100 grams. Here they can still choose to lie down - but gradually they spend more time hanging. We need a fairly sophisticated structure as we have 100-200 orphans most years.

If necessary, for the Little Red flying fox orphans, we use a heater on in the room once the pups are on the frame. They are born just before winter and It gets quite cool at night in Atherton. The wild orphan is left alone in the trees at night from about 130gms, so there is no real neeed for heat in a healthy pup in its natural geographical area. Inside a house is much warmer than in the canopy of the colony

As they get older the pups need climbing/hanging/ flapping space and eventually flying space. Even at 1 week of age some orphans will want to flap their wings, and turn upside down to toilet. Carers who do not have the necessary facilities for a bat learning to fly will pass them on to the creche facility. In Australia, the bat should have no opportunity to accidentally bite or scratch anyone unvaccinated for ABLV. If someone is bitten or scratched, the Health authorities will want to kill the bat to be tested for ABL. Please be responsible as the life of this young orphan is in your hands.

We like to move the orphans outside as soon as possible after about 6 -8 weeks of age or 200gms. Initially we hang towels in the cage so that it doesn't feel too open for them - they can feel insecure otherwise and suck onto other orphans. We slowly take down the towels as they become used to being outside. In the wild, pups of this age are being left alone in the trees at night. Life is far more stimulating outside with its rich environment of night sounds and smells etc.

BAT COMPANY. Ideally you will need to find other young bats with which your bat can socialise and be prepared for return to the wild. This becomes important from about 6 weeks of age. This can be difficult if few orphans come into care but every attempt ought to be made to either move your bat onto another carer or you take on another bat. For some species, we regularly liase with carers hundreds of kilometres away to ensure this happens.

FRUIT. Young flying foxes love fruit from a very early age. In the wild their first taste or fruit would be licking fruit juices from around their mother's mouth. However until they can fly independently they have little opportunity to get fruit. This is perhaps the only area in which orphans have the opportunity to develop a lot earlier than their wild counterparts. It is important to maintain the milk component of their diet at the same time. Pups in the wild are breast-fed for up to 6 months.

We hang fruit on hooks, and will usually only cut it if its too soft to hang.

As pups begin to eat fruit they will often expel worms,Toxacara pteropis. Rarely will these commonly occurring worms be a problem. The worms come through the mothers milk. A pup in poor condition with no appetite or energy can be wormed with one dose of roundworm medicine for kittens.

LEAVES. Adult flying foxes eat certain species of green leaves. We introduce leaves when the orphans are about 3 months old.

SUNSHINE Pups need increasing access to sunshine. Initally have them hanging off your shirt and sit in light sun for 10 minutes or so a few times a day. Watch the very young pup as they cannot thermoregulate. When a few weeks old, pups can be hung on clothes airers that allow them to climb into or out of the sun. They can also be hung in outside cages for periods of time before they are outside full time.

Photo: Pru Harvey. Baby Simon with his first mango.


.Tolga Bat Hospital - Hungry Bat

HANDLING AND BONDING. Newborn flying foxes have very sharp claws. This helps them to stay securely on Mum as she is flying. However this means carers are very readily covered in fine scratches, particularly on the backs of their hands. The scratches very rarely draw blood but are difficult to avoid while learning to handle young bats. As the pups get used to being handled confidently though, they seem to scratch less.
Young bats feel secure when their feet are holding on or their mouths are sucking on, or both. Many will have a false sense of security if it is only their mouth hanging on. Always handle by their feet. We wear orphans a lot - wear a long tshirt and pin up the front edge. Babies love to rest their head in this 'pouch' as they do in their mother's wing. As they get older, they are happy to just hang off the tshirt. We don't encourage this behaviour as our pups have lots of other pups with which to socialise, but certain individuals seem to need this 'mothering'.

TOILETING. We like to toilet pups regularly to keep them clean. Position the baby vertically to toilet, the same position they will use when older, and stimulate just above the genital area over the bladder. The flying fox mother always licks her baby's genitals for toileting. We stimulate toileting before feeding the pup, some 5 minutes or so after feeding as well as several times between feeding. You will learn what times are the most productive. Young pups will barely wake up when toileted. I noticed when travelling in Vietnam that mothers would hold infants in a squat position outside as an alternative to using nappies.

GROOMING. Wash the pup if necessary but only with cloth and water. Good clean housing and regular toileting greatly lessens the need for washing. Pups will begin cleaning themselves from a very young age if given the chance to be free of wraps. Take particular care that the pup remains dry inside the wing where the wing joins the body. Remain vigilant for any signs of fungal infection in the wings, but good housing and toileting will prevent this.
Expect to find small batflies - they look a little like spiders with 6 legs - they do not need to be removed. Be alert for fly eggs or ticks as these must be removed.

The following information regarding weights and measures of orphans at different ages refers to the 3 larger species of Australian flying foxes. FAL is forearm length.Please email us if you would like information on growth in Little Red flying foxes.

The very small pup Weight 60 - 90 gms, FAL 60 - 70mm, age premature to 1 week
We house these babies in a box with heating pad as they will want to sleep all of the time. They cannot maintain their own body temperature. In the wild these babies are on their mothers full-time. Feeds need to be 2-3 hourly (5 feeds a day) and 1-3 mls per feed. We like to feed these very young orphans through a teat with a 3 ml syringe. Like young human babies, these orphans need to be kept in a relatively quiet environment with little disturbance between feeds. Expect a weight gain of about 15 gms and FAL increase of about 10mm per week.

The small pup Weight 90 - 120 gms FAL 70 - 85, age 1 - 4weeks
These babies will want to sleep most of the time, but will be increasingly active looking around and even flapping in short bursts. We house them on our over-bath cage. Can feed with bottle and teat or continue with syringe. Feeds 3-4 hourly (5 feeds per day) and 3 - 8 mls per feed.

The medium pup Weight 110 -150gms FAL 75 - 100mm, age 2 - 5 weeks
Feed these babies with bottle and teat unless they are have feeding problems. They will take 5 -10 mls per feed with 5 feeds per day. Expect a weight gain of 8 -20 gms and FAL increase of 7-10 mm per week.

The large pup Weight 150 - 200 gms FAL 90 -100mm, age 4 - 6 weeks
At this age the pup will become confident on a self-feeder and spend most of its time hanging. This is the age when mum will leave bub behind in the colony at night. Also introduce a self-feeder with water.

The flapper Weight 150 - 250gms FAL 100 -120mm, age 5 - 9 weeks
You need to have at least 2 orphans now. They will start to do a lot of flapping so ensure there is enough room for this. They will be cleaning themselves and inverting for toileting. Fruit can be introduced at this stage. Some will still need help to keep clean.

The flyer Weight 250gms - 350gms FAL 120 - 140mm, age 9 - 12 weeks
Expect FAL to increase about 2-4 mm per week. In the wild this pup is making short flights within the colony and doing a lot of climbing.
No ceiling fans, breakables etc This is the time to bring to the creching cage. Fruit is now an established part of their diet but it is important to continue with milk until release. Banana smoothie made on 100% full cream cows milk ( plus honey) is easy if they don't not want to drink straight milk. Some people prefer to sprinkle the milk powder or Wambaroo high protein formula on top of chopped fruit.

The released juvenile 350gms+
In the wild they are taking flights of increasing distances out of the colony from early January. Research in Sydney with the Grey-headed flying foxes indicates the importance of releasing the orphans into the colony before mating season begins in March. We start taking them out to the release cage at the colony from early January. For more information on our release program, see release cage at the bottom of the Hospital Facilities page. click here.


Tolga Bat Hospital - Wrapped Bats   Tolga Bat Hospital - Bats In Transit

About 300 babies came into care in late 2004. We were unable to find enough carers in far north Queensland, and gained permission from Queensland Parks and Wildlife to airlift about 150 to southern centres. They went down as 120-150gm babies mostly and so could be wraped, but returned as 400gm babies hanging in individual compartments. The whole operation went extremely smoothly, mainly because of the efficient organisation by our sister care group in Brisbane, Bat Rescue Inc

Another site for information on rearing young flying foxes is Noah's Arc