Dee Dee the big brown bat is a silky burnt sienna brown, and her fur is so soft you almost can't feel it. When I first got her she smelled terrible--a skunky foxy musk that apparently emanated from facial glands. I wondered if I'd be able to stand the stink. Now she's almost odorless, just the faintest sweet peaty scent that's quite pleasant. I didn't understand why that would be until I frightened her one day recently by surprising her when I lifted her towel. She must have been deeply asleep, maybe dreaming of summer evenings and tender moths. She chittered, gaped at me and emanated an incredible wave of musk. Oh! That's why she stank when I first got her--she was afraid. Poor little thing.
Needless to say, I am no longer afraid of her, either. Maybe I stank to her when we first met. But now we understand more about each other.
Chances are very good (probably 90%, based on current research) that DeeDee is storing sperm from an autumnal mating in 2009. Big browns mate before going into hibernation, and the female can store viable sperm for up to four months. One source I found says they store the sperm in the uterus. Birds store it in little side pockets of the oviduct, and then release it to fertilize an egg. Bat babies in Ohio are born in May or June. Here are some photos I found on the Net from a study of big brown bat maternity roosts. Here's a bat carrying a single fetus:
and here's a girl carrying twins.
Both x-ray photos from the Fort Collins Bat Project
I found myself very moved by these photos; they somehow erased the differences between us, and united us as mammals. Perhaps it's because they remind me of my carefully-saved sonagrams of Phoebe and Liam in utero, those perfect skulls, those perfect beaded spinal columns, the sheer wonder of being a live-bearing mammal, being able to have a being within a being.
Now you try to build a sentence that uses "being" four times.
If all goes well, DeeDee will be taken to Columbus for flight conditioning in mid April, and when the weather is warm enough, released right outside the house where she was found, long before she needs to find a maternity roost and give birth to her pup or pups. She knows the neighborhood; she may have lived there for 20 years, for all we know. She'll go back to her life, find a maternity roost with other big brown bats, give birth, and leave her newborn young in a cluster of other babies when she goes out to forage. (I had always thought they somehow flew with the baby clinging to them, but they don't. Catching flying insects is a flip-upside-down, sudden-change-of-direction proposition, a highly acrobatic endeavor, and a new baby would probably go hurtling off the first time Mom caught a moth.)
Brace yourself for teh OMG:
This is a baby big brown bat that has gotten sand stuck to it. It's being given a drink by a rehabilitator. From bestfriends.org
If we can get her to a maternity roost before she delivers, Dee Dee will find her baby by crawling about and listening for its voice among all the other squeaks. She'll lick its face and muzzle before taking it to nurse and sleep with it. Within three or four days, its eyes will open, and in about three weeks the baby will be flying itself. I doubt anyone knows whether Mom brings it insects, the way many songbirds do, for weeks after it starts flying. These are the kinds of things I wonder about bats, coming from my birdy background.