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Bat Boot Camp

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

At the beginning of their training, I had to pick each bat up as if it were a box turtle--from above. If I let the bat climb onto and cling to my glove, I'd never get it in the air--they stuck to me like Velcro. I'd pick a bat up like you'd pick up a biscuit, swing it a couple of times, then gently toss it into the air. It would catch itself with its wings, flutter to the nearest tent wall, and cling. Well, it was better than not flying at all.

Stella, large and in charge.

 What I didn't know at first is that bats need to be warm--really warm--to be able to fly. They need to be slim enough to fly, but they also have to be warm. Every once in awhile I'd feel a wing or tail against my bare skin and be shocked at how cold those membranes were. Mid-April is still pretty darn cold, with nights barely edging into the 50's. And bats like to fly when nights are in the 60's and warmer. So as I think back on it, I may have been pushing these animals to fly in mid-April when they were physiologically incapable. It was probably not just that they were too fat. They were too cold to fly.

As I thought about it more, and conferred with Rob Mies and Lisa Fosco, it hit me that bats who have been hibernating all winter basically wake up and, without any conditioning at all, take to the wing. They fly out and catch a meal of moths. They aren't fat at that point--they're running very lean after a long winter. But by some miracle their muscles don't atrophy and they're good to go on their first flight. If I laid up for  six months, I wouldn't be able to hobble, much less catch a moth in flight. 
So maybe I was asking too much. I laid back a bit on the flight conditioning. We still worked out each evening if it was 55 or above, but not as hard. I noticed that they flew MUCH better when the day had been warm and the garage had heated up. Once again, the bats told me what to do and what not to do.

I kept them at 12-15 mealworms each per day, and they lost weight nicely, slowly but surely. 
I wish someone would keep me to 12 mealworms per day. Or the equivalent.


Another amazing story, captivating and well-written. I'm amazed at the photos in your blog and also the pictures & stories in The Bluebird Effect. That story about the barn swallows on the wire...unbelievable!

Hi Julie:

As far as I know, all flying creatures need to warm up their flight muscles before they can fly. This is why you'll see moths shivering and vultures with their wings spread out in the early morning sunlight.

Great story! I'm glad to read of their progress.


Chuckle chuckle--Me too--on both counts---need to warm up to fly (coffee), and should hold myself to the equivalent of 12 mealworms a day.

Preferably the equivalent!

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