The Flowers & the Fox

Skyrail Nature Diary: November 2008

This month the Black Bean trees are bursting with a stunning array of red and yellow flowers, creating an attractive splash of colour throughout the canopy in the Barron Gorge National Park.

Black Bean trees (Castanospermum australe) are found throughout rainforests from NSW to the tip of Cape York Peninsula. They prefer rich, moist soil, but can tolerate a variety of conditions including frost, heavy shade and full exposure to the sun.

The Black Bean’s name comes from the large seed pods that appear on the tree between March and May, which split open to reveal three or more large, bean-like seeds. The seeds and leaves are toxic to livestock, and subsequently many Black Bean trees have been cleared from grazing areas.

Meantime the Black Bean’s spectacular, nectar-laden flowers (which appear between September and December) are a popular treat for many rainforest animals, including the Spectacled Flying-fox.

The Spectacled Flying-fox (Pteropus conspicillatus) is nocturnal and is most commonly seen around Cairns and Tropical North Queensland at dusk, when large flocks head out for an evening of feeding and socialising.

Photo - Adam McKeown, CSIRO

Taking its name from its distinctive colouring, the Spectacled Flying-fox has patches of pale yellow fur surrounding its eyes, giving it the appearance of wearing spectacles.

It uses its highly-developed sense of smell, eyesight and colour recognition to find its favourite foods which include eucalypts, figs, lilly pillys and grevilleas.

This cute critter is considered a keystone species in Australia's Tropical Rainforests, as it plays a critical role in the pollen and seed dispersal, and subsequent regeneration, of at least 26 rainforest tree species.

In fact, the Spectacled Flying-fox will often travel up to 100km each night when searching for food, and can spread up to 60,000 seeds in one outing!

Breeding season, from September to November, is an important time of year for this species, with the Spectacled Flying-foxes only giving birth to one offspring each year. Young bats cling to their mother's underside until about one month old, when they become too heavy to carry and are left in the roosting tree. They reach adult size, approximately 25cm in length and weighing 0.5kg, at around two years of age.

There has been a decline in Spectacled Flying-fox populations in recent years, leading to its listing as ‘Vulnerable’ on the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in 2002.

Australia’s Tropical Rainforests are home to 3,000 plant species from 210 families. More than 395 of these are considered rare or threatened, with 330 found nowhere else in the world! They are also home to an amazing array of Australia’s animals, including 36% of its mammal species, 50% of bird and bat species and two types of tree kangaroo.

The rainforests extend from Townsville in the south to Cooktown in the north; the most environmentally sustainable way to visit this amazing place is on Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.