Background Switcher (Hidden)

A Tiny Tragedy

Thursday, May 31, 2012

 Stella, looking round...

My spring obligations began to close in, and I was trying to see into the future and predict when the batgirls might be ready for release. I understood from Rob Mies and Lisa Fosco that bats should be able to fly continuously for ten minutes in an enclosed space to be considered releasable. I watched my girls flutter languidly from one perch to the next and wondered if they’d ever get there. But they still had weight to lose, so I worked them and kept their rations slim (12 mealworms each day) and kept hope alive. What I didn’t want to do was to have to send them to the Ohio Wildlife Center for safekeeping while we were in Alaska from May 14-21. I desperately wanted to release them before I left. I knew from past experience that the stress of transport and of being in a new environment, which would likely be much less bat-friendly than our quiet garage with its spacious flight tent, might throw them off their feed and cause them to go back into torpor. These bats knew me and were comfortable with being handled by me. Heck, sometimes I had a hard time getting them to fly--they liked hanging out on my gloved hand. I liked it, too. But oh, I wanted them to go free.

The other wall facing me was the possibility that one or both of these girls was pregnant. Big brown bats  mate in the fall and delay implantation of the fertilized egg until conditions are right. They deliver their young—one or sometimes twins—from mid-May through June in Ohio. What I did not want was more bats to worry about. 

Lisa Fosco learned that through hard experience, when bats would deliver babies while still in captivity. She said she released a female bat with a young baby clinging to her only to see the baby fall to the ground, its newly released mother vanishing into the sky.  Ack ack ack. The only alternative to prevent such a boondoggle, she said, is to keep the mother and baby together in confinement until the baby is flying and completely independent. My mind boggled at the prospect. How many more months would that be? How could I provide adequate nutrition for a lactating mother bat, and how could the baby bat learn to forage in a flight tent? No, no, no, no. These bats had to go and find a maternity roost before they delivered their young. I felt like Indiana Jones in the vault with all four walls closing in. 

On the evening of May 1 I went out to fly the girls and found a small red wad on the towel beneath the bats’ roost. I knew what it had to be before I picked it up. It wasn’t a wad, it was a being: a fetus, about half developed, its tiny wings wrapped around it, each minuscule toe perfectly formed, its face dished like that of a puppy, its eyes just dark spots between the clear fetal skin. 


I turned it over and over, unfolded its wings and worked its tiny feet. It would have been a boy. I studied the quiet bats. Stella hung alone in the corner, not cuddled up to Mirabel as usual. Gently I picked her up and found the birth blood on her.  I fed her all the mealworms she wanted and gave her a dropper of water, apologizing to her for failing to get her out to a maternity roost where she could deliver in safety. I didn’t fly her for the next two days. By the next morning she’d passed the afterbirth. 

Looking at her baby's perfect spine reminded me of the early sonograms of our kids, just notions in the womb, but already adorned with a string of vertebral pearls. 

Oh, so very sad to know this one would never fly.

There was a bright spot in the sadness. Both bats, by May 2, were down to 20 gm, which was finally in the normal range. Yet they were still not showing sustained flight. My hands were tied. I felt the pressure of time once again. My heart ached to see the girls fly free.

Most of all, I ached for Stella and her lost baby. I wept for him and for her. I hoped that I could do better by Mirabel, hoped that part of her stubborn weight was a little fetus hanging in there, waiting for her to find the right old attic in Marietta where it could come into the world as nature intended.

I knew we were on the road to release, knew all these bats needed was a little more time. And time was the one thing I didn't have.


This is sad to be sure, but absolutely amazing. Thanks for sharing. Because of your help, she'll go on to have many others, I'm sure!

I am always amazed when I see fetal mammals--how many similarities there are among us mammals. We begin alike in so many ways.
Your turn of expression--vertebral pearls--priceless.

Kate said it perfectly.

A sad tale but hope for the other bat. On another topic - did you see your bluebird book painting in Saturday's Wall St. Journal? Lovely!

"the early sonograms of our kids, just notions in the womb, but already adorned with a string of vertebral pearls. "

So exquisite. Thank you for your stories.

Wayne, PA

Posted by Anonymous May 31, 2012 at 9:41 AM

Thank you, everyone. As much as this wrenched my heart, I did love seeing and handling a bat fetus for the first (and probably last) time. Bette, I not only saw The Bluebird Effect's art featured in last weekend's Wall St. Journal, I now have a fab print copy Bill brought me from Boston. My email has been down for two days or I'd have answered yours. Interesting, to have no email capability...well, I can get it online but it ain't pretty. About ten thousand male enlargement ads for each gem.


So beautiful, so ugly, so moving, so amazing, this post!
That little red bat on its back with nose pointed upward made me cry as much as your lovely prose did.

visiting your blog, Julie, is always a case of 'expect the unexpected'!

This comment has been removed by the author.

My husband just said, "One phone call to Julie, and the illustrated chapters on natural wonders we could never have know about or even imagined just keep on rolling into our lives."

Thank you.

Barb, how Stella enriched my life I can't begin to tell. What some might view as a mere nuisance (a bat circling a bedroom, ack!) was to me a gift beyond price or measure. I loved that bat, fiercely, for the short few months she was given to me to care for. Most of all she was a teacher. Everything she did gave me a glimmer of insight as to how to care for her. The final goal here is to do right by bats that come to me in the future. My instinct tells me that it is not right to keep them at room temperature in the winter; my instinct tells me that it's not right to feed them all winter. What I'm looking for is a protocol that will be the closest imitation of what nature would provide them. And that will probably be quickly integrating foundling bats into an existing winter colony where they can sleep and commune with others as nature intended. I don't know whether I can find an accessible colony, or even whether that will work, but it's got to be better than what I'm doing here.
Thank you, Barb and John, for my impetuous blonde, who is even now probably hanging back in your attic, and flittering over Camp Tupper in the evening. :) I miss her so!!

maybe the time BEFORE you took her in was too stressful and this was bound to happen....any idea how old the bat girls were? could you tell?

Dear Julie,
I read this after a 12 hour night shift caring for new moms and teaching them to care for their new babies. Your writing, and Stella's loss, just make those new babes all the more precious.

Kathy in Delray Beach

Posted by Anonymous June 1, 2012 at 5:29 AM

What a sad and beautiful entry. Thanks for all the love, bat and otherwise.xom

Posted by Anonymous June 3, 2012 at 1:19 PM
[Back to Top]