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In the Bat Tent

Sunday, May 27, 2012

I've left you with the post "Fat Bats" for a week now. I've been busy doing all the things that don't get done when you're running around Alaska looking at moose and orcas. Spent much of the last two days washing orchids. I find I have to wash them a couple of times a year, scrub out all their humidity trays and most of all comb each one over for that nasty white Boisduval scale and regular scale. It does wonders for them, washing orchids. Take a look at yours. Are their leaves caked with dust? Well,take 'em in the shower and give those plants a good hard rinse with tepid water. They'll thank you for it.

Bats. When we last saw Mirabel and Stella, they were topping 25 gm. and unable to fly worth a nickel, certainly unable to catch their own food on the wing. In early April, I ordered the Zephyr Screen Gazebo by Wenzel. It’s made of super-soft polyester mesh and silky nylon fabric, and I didn’t see any way they could hurt themselves on that. Most importantly, it was fitted with tight-closing zippers and a welded nylon floor integral to the tent, which is designed to keep bugs off your picnic table, but also to thwart my hairy little Houdinis. A bat can get out of a ½” crack, and it will find that crack before you know it. They needed to be completely enclosed.

Zephyr is a good name for this tent because the slightest breeze will crumple it up and roll it across your yard. The steel poles are about the thickness of a good asparagus spear. Please. Sooo flimsy.  I don't recommend it for outdoor use at all; I can't imagine where you could put this up and not have it destroyed within a week by a good gust of wind. So I ditched my plans to erect the tent in the yard, and decided to set it up in our detached garage. Our cars could live outside for a month. This decision turned out to be a bit of genius. I didn't have to worry about inclement weather or raccoons, although I did say a frequent prayer that the black rat snakes in our garage wouldn't figure out how to open the zippers. Needless to say I was completely OCD about keeping all the zippers closed. What I did not want was to feed my miracle girls to the snakes.

I released the batgirls into their spacious tent on April 14, and was disappointed to find them uninterested in using it at all. They'd flutter down to the floor and hop along. They'd never be able to use the clever bat roost I'd devised out of a stepladder and some bathmats.  Once down, they'd never fly back up there.

So I took an old crate and a towel and made a little roost on the floor of the tent, one they could literally walk to. This conditioning thing was going to be a lot more work than I thought. Egad.
I sought advice from Lisa Fosco of the Ohio Wildlife Center. She confirmed my suspicion that a 25 gm. bat is too fat to fly. And she added a warning: Sometimes, despite a rehabilitator's best efforts to condition a fat bat, it will fail to lose the weight. "And THEN what??" I asked, horrified. "Well, then it has to be taken into permanent captivity. It's happened to me twice. I worked them and worked them and they just never dropped the weight."

Lisa warned that I had to keep the bats eating; that when I cut their rations to six mealworms apiece each day, they'd try to go back into torpor, and lose no more weight. "Keep them eating, keep them active," she said.

And Mirabel stopped eating. She wouldn't eat for a week, but she still didn't lose a gram. Uh oh. I racked my brains. What to do?? How do you force-feed a bat? Finally I decided to offer her a couple of droppers of the liquid nutritional supplement Ensure, which she eagerly drank. And the next evening she started eating again. Whew! 

I watched the bats. They were so ravenous when I’d feed them, always looking for more worms. I reasoned that since I was "flying" them each evening, they could probably stand to eat more than six worms a day. I doubled their allotment. And against all expectation, that was when they began to lose weight. It seemed counterintuitive for them to drop weight when they were eating more, but it was working. I was a few days into this new protocol when Rob Mies emailed.

Our lead keeper and I just talked and think you
should try giving them 12 mealworms each daily and see how they do in
a month or so.  We think their bodies may be shutting down fat
consumption because food has dwindled, but if they get used to 12
mealworms it should start to fall off.  Let me know how it goes.”

I felt like I did when I was raising four ruby-throated hummingbird nestlings and I started to worry that the soy-based adult maintenance formula I was feeding them was insufficient for their needs, growing so fast and making all those feathers. I decided to squeeze out the innards of mealworms like toothpaste and gave it to them on the round end of a blunt toothpick along with their nectar diet. Within hours I could literally see them pick up and begin to thrive. They all went on to fledge. A year later I learned from an experienced hummingbird rehabilitator that they probably wouldn’t have survived on maintenance formula alone—the soy protein settles out of the nectar and is indeed inadequate for a growing baby’s metabolic needs.

Once again, Instinct had stepped in and told me what to do. The bats had told me what to do.

Look at this photo. Isn't it weird? My little ectomorphic children, dwarfed by a giant bat. Eeee!


What an utterly remarkable story. Holy cow---no, make that holy bat! Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought you could put a bat on a diet--- or feed it yourself for that matter---or keep it in a garage--- or ANY of this.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Posted by Anonymous May 27, 2012 at 10:32 PM

Glad to hear this worked out so well!

Oh, just amazing. Glad you shared the part of having squeezed mealworms, too,lest we forget how creative you are! SO hapy hte bats are doing so. well.My zero care Bobster is super, too--if he knew they were being hand-fedmeal worms a county away , however.
Longing to see you and yours. xxoom

Posted by Anonymous May 28, 2012 at 5:02 AM

I am absolutely fascinated! I love reading about your compassionate care and learning so much as a bonus.

Just amazing the way your mind works to solve problems. Thanks for sharing the results with us. I am so glad you write about what you do!

Kathy in Delray Beach
(words to prove I am not a robot-Sisters. ontsche)

Posted by Anonymous May 28, 2012 at 1:06 PM

Love this post! Love those bats.

Oh and here's to intuition and those centered enough to be able to follow it. It confounded my Earthwatch scientist leaders "you couldn't possibly know that without years of careful observation, trial and error". Sometimes the answers are already there.....

This is all so fascinating to read. My, how you had your hands full! As a side note, the part that intrigues me the most is about feeding them more to get them to drop weight. I read similar conversations daily on a fitness website that I use for tracking my own caloric intake/output, and I can attest that this same formula works on humans, too, to some extent. We and the bats, we're not so different. Bravo for your instinct!

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