It is summer here at the moment, and in northern NSW, we have all just had to endure another heatwave. With another three months of this weather to go, I am just not sure how many more of these summers I can take. There are a lot of flying fox camps around this area. In a nearby town which hosts one of these camps, it was so hot last weekend that there were literally thousands of flying foxes dropping dead out of the trees.
Because my wife’s work has a lot to do with flying foxes, she found herself on the edge of a very well coordinated rescue effort by a volunteer wildlife rescue group. They triaged several hundred animals, and sent many of them off to various places to be rehabilitated over the next few weeks. Babies are generally born on October, so there were a lot of pups involved. This one is about three weeks old.
As a follow up to this, over the next couple of days she went checking up on other camps around the place. She found some sick and dead bats, but nothing on the scale of what happened on the weekend.
What she did find, which formed the basis of the lesson, was a near entire bat skeleton. Whatever killed this animal, it obviously died a few weeks ago, and, unusually, nothing had disturbed the body.
I was at work for the day, so unfortunately, I missed the actual lesson. The boys know a fair bit about flying foxes already, due to their mum’s work. Poorly understood and much maligned, these beautiful animals are in fact, ecologically critical and extremely interesting creatures. This particular lesson was less about their behaviour and more about their anatomy.
They started off with an internet search of some good skeleton pictures, and then the puzzle began.
Although clean, in so far as it was well weathered, this was far from a sterile specimen. Everybody was wearing gloves or using tweezers, to separate and move the individual bones.
Some of the bones are incredibly fine, especially in the wings and feet. The phrase, ‘wings on their fingers‘ becomes very plain when the skeleton is all laid out. The boys are intrigued by how bodies work, and what can be inferred about an animal by looking at its design.
We quite often take a look at different camps around the local area to see what the flying foxes are up to. We also hear them fairly frequently arguing in the trees around our house at night. It was a wonderful opportunity for the boys to have such a detailed study of these creatures which feature so large in the background of our lives.