Fasten your seatbelts. I'm gonna go all bats on you. And you're going to love it. Bats are pretty much my favorite animal now, right after ligers. Which, as you probably know, are bred mainly for their skills in magic.
Back to bats.
It's a late winter Wednesday. My mother-in-law, Elsa Thompson, notices a bat flying around in her living room and kitchen. While most people would scream and dive for cover, Elsa takes mild note of the event and hopes she will eventually find the bat where she can catch it. She's done this before. And she is not your garden-variety mother-in-law, being co-founder of both Bird Watcher's Digest and The Marietta Natural History Society.
Friday. Elsa opens the basement door and sees a bat roosting in the jamb, near her pegboard full of pots and pans. She captures it in a towel and installs it in a glass vase with a towel in the bottom and colander over the top. Later, she adds a ball of raw hamburger and a cut-up grape. She calls me and tells me she's seen the bat tugging at the grape. What else should she offer it? That evening, I swoop in on my way to the movies and give the bat a dozen mealworms off the end of a tweezers. Thank goodness I always keep mealworms on hand in a couple of plastic shoeboxes, where they reproduce and offer themselves up to save whatever foundling I have on hand, even in January. The bat is very hungry and thirsty, having expended valuable energy by flying around a warm house for three days. It's evidently found its way downstairs from the cold attic, where it should be hibernating.
While we're holding the bat in a towel, it squirms around and gets away, making loops around the living room. It vanishes and I stand stock-still in the living room, looking carefully. I find it resting atop a warm DVD player, and pick it up in the towel to continue feeding it. I will not realize until much later how lucky I was to have relocated that animal.
Sunday. I pick the bat up in the evening. Elsa's been ably caring for it and feeding it in the meantime. I've called the Ohio Wildlife Center and found out that protocol for a healthy bat found in a warm house in midwinter is to keep it until it can be released outside in spring. Oh! My! That sounds like a job! Thank goodness I'm permitted and certified by the State of Ohio to handle and keep rabies vector species like bats. Even so, I make plans to have Bill transport it to the OWC clinic in Columbus in the morning, where they are hosting eight overwintering bats in just the same straits. He's on his way to the airport anyway. You see, I am just a little eepy about handling and keeping a bat in my house. I am thinking rabies and disease and gloves and towels and guano and kids and eep eep eep.
Who are you, little one? You're so foreign to me. I have no mental template for how you should look or behave. I need to know you.
Something happens to my brain (not a dread viral disease, but a chemical shift) between Sunday night and Monday morning, and I decide not to unload the bat on OWC just yet. I've been researching bat care online. And I want to make sure it can feed itself from a dish. I want to make sure it's in top condition before I fob it off on anyone else. I want to get to know it better. And I have a small suspicion that I'm falling out of fear and into love.
It's a female, and she seems thin and ribby to me, maybe a bit dehydrated. She chitters and cusses at me in an ultrasonic voice when I handle her. She sounds like an angry hummingbird, bzzbzzbzzzbzzbzzzbzzbzzz! For the next two days, I hold her in my glove while I feed her crickets twice a day. I can feel her voice vibrating even when I can't hear her. Then I find a good piece online, written by Susan Bernard of Basically Bats, called Bats in Captivity, which warns that hand-fed bats might not take food again on their own. Uh-oh. I decide to offer mealworms and crickets in a little shallow dish, and water in another as they suggest, and quit handling her to feed her. It seems a better solution all around.
By now the bat is installed in a plastic pet carrier meant for small mammals and reptiles. I've got a washcloth doubled and draped down the side where she can hang upside down in comfortable darkness. The food and water dishes are on paper towels below her. Since she'd be hibernating anyway, she doesn't need to fly around, and she's perfectly still and sleeping all day. The next morning, the mealworm dish stands empty. Well, that was easy. The next night, I creep in with a little flashlight cupped in my palm so only a tiny ray of light sneaks out, and I catch her elbowing over to her mealworm dish, which she lustily empties. I let a little more light fall on her and she glares at me and retreats into her washcloth roost, a tiny, deeply offended Dracula, fleeing the dawn. By now I am completely in love. I'm glad I don't have to handle her and stress her, and she is, too.
Maybe I can do this bat care gig. She's a whole lot less trouble than a macaw. And she is really, really adorable.
I'll be speaking about this little messenger from above (and a bunch of other stuff) starting at 5:30 PM tomorrow night, Friday, March 12, at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, for its William and Nancy Klamm Memorial Lecture in its Explorer series. There will be live music, refreshment, exhibits, a book signing, Phoebe and a very excited, dino-crazy Liam in attendance. I've spent the week tearing my Letters from Eden talk all to bits as only a crazy Mac Lady can. It's all new. If you're anywhere near Cleveland, I'd love to meet you. Remember to blurt "BLOG!" You can register here.
If you miss the Cleveland talk, come hear me at nearby Black River Audubon's "Outstanding Speakers" series the very next night, Saturday, March 13, at 7 pm. It'll be at Lorain Co. (Ohio) Metroparks' Carlisle Visitor Center. Details are here. Another big weekend!