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Bat Reproduction, and an Appeal

Thursday, March 25, 2010

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.)

As much as I'd like to see a baby big brown bat, I absolutely do not want Dee Dee to give birth in a 20 gallon fishtank with a screened top. Please hold onto that sperm for awhile, Dee. Wait to start gestating until we can get you outdoors where you belong.

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

There's something about this baby bat that makes me want to give a long, drawn out squeeeee!!! Kind of a mix of wanting to take care of it and flipping out at how weird it is.

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.

There are other things I wonder about bats. I wrote that line, "Needless to say, I am no longer afraid of her, either" before I heard from several readers, well-informed, virologist/veterinarian readers, about mysterious and apparently magical means of rabies transmission--aerosolized urine? By simply having a bat in your house or bedroom? By having a bat touch but not bite you? Whaa? How exactly does that work? Doesn't an actively rabid animal have to chomp down on you to transmit rabies? Well, nobody really knows. And when you're talking about a disease that's 100% fatal once contracted, who can afford to question it?

Having had bat pee rain down on me in both Guyana and Brazil, it's a wonder I'm still alive. And I think about all the people who live and work in places that have bat colonies--barns and warehouses and churches...spelunkers knee-deep in bat guano...I dunno. The bat seems perfectly healthy, eating well and acting normal. I've taken every precaution, always wearing gloves and long sleeves, keeping the bat tank scrupulously clean, banishing everyone else from the room when I'm handling it, and yet last night I dreamt that Liam chased a couple of kids down on the playground and bit them. I woke with a start. It was horrible. I lay awake each night thinking about it all, wake up feeling tired and punky. I reach for my water glass, wondering if my throat is going to suddenly close up and my fever is going to spike and that'll be it, folks, because by the time you show symptoms of rabies you're already dying.

Dying. Nobody wants to die, and I'm one of 'em. I have a lot to do, a lot more to learn, a lot more to teach. The world is just so wonderful, full as it is of miracles and marvels like these little winged mammals, and I want to show it all to you, to everyone. I wonder if it's all worth it, worrying like that just so I can help a bat.

I should go get the shots. I should scrape up $700 and go get the shots. Chances are, I'll get more bats in future years, and it just makes sense not to have to live in fear. Here's the hard part: I would like to ask for your help. It's probably obvious from the virtually ad-free template that I have resisted any temptation to commercialize this blog, but this feels like a special case. I took on the bat because I wanted to be able to learn about it so I could write about it and share that with you all. I came within a hairsbreadth of punting the animal to someone who knew what they were doing and already had the pre-exposure vaccinations. But I wanted to write about bats. I wanted to understand something more about them. I figured out what I'd gotten myself into well after the fact, and once again you, my readers, informed me, not the other way around. I get just as much out of this experience as you do, and its richness continues to amaze me.

If you would like to help (and any amount would help, and be much appreciated), here's the address:

Julie Zickefoose
Indigo Hill
Whipple, OH 45788

If you prefer PayPal, scroll down to the "DONATE" button at the bottom of the page.

Though the admittedly cryptic address is good (I checked with the Whipple postmistress), I don't know if this appeal will work. I humbly thank you in advance for anything you're able to come up with, and I promise I'll let you know when to stop.


Oh I'm SO glad you asked! I was actually thinking I'd be more then willing to donate towards that $700, but didn't know if you would be embarrassed! Must keep Science Chimp alive...

Question that I can't remember if it was answered before or not---do these shots last a lifetime?

As they say...the check's in the mail!

Dearest Christine,

Thank you for your enthusiasm. It means a lot to me. I have been neurotically checking my comments, wondering if people would think it was craven of me to ask for help. Now I know at least one person doesn't. The deal with the shots is you get your titer checked every two years (about $40), and if the rabies antibodies are still high, you're OK. One woman I know says hers has held for 15 years and counting. That'll take me toward my dotage if so. So beyond the shots, it'll cost me $20/year to check my antibody titer. All for the love of bats, who need a lotta love these days.

Hey Julie - Do you have a paypal account? I have loved reading about Dee Dee and all the other amazing things you do on that farm in Ohio that I just don't have the opportunity to do here in my little world. I would be happy to contribute something so you can continue to care for these creatures without and hesitation or fear. LMK!

Hi Colleen,

. I don't have a Paypal account, no, duhh. Sorry to make you scrounge around for a stamp. And a checkbook. And an envelope. And a pen.

Obviously, in addition to needing my shots, I need to enter the 20th century. :-/

Dear Crazy Bat/Bug/Bird/etc. Lady,

You've been writing for free for years on this blog. Many of us are or know people who (try to) make a living by writing. (Not I--I know too many who try to do so! *lol*)

Why would you think we wouldn't be willing to contribute what we can to keep you doing what you do so well?

Would it help (and legally, can we?) if we sent you gifts c/o the BWD business address? (Wow, to live in a place where you can still just address mail to the name of a house! I wanna live there...)

Glad you asked!!! Yes, we get so much pleasure out of living vicariously through you - I think we'd all be happy to live vicariously through your vaccination. Who would not have paid $10 a year to subscribe to your blog - it's a pittance. I for one am thrilled to "insure" that the blog is around for a long time!

C.M. Wren,

thank you. There's no need to use the Bird Watcher's Digest address. Before I posted this, I called the Whipple post office to make sure that the admittedly cryptic address I've supplied would work. (I'm not wild about posting my street and house number for obvious reasons). The postmistress assured me that it would, since everything with 45788 comes to the Whipple post office, where they know me just as Julie Z, and from whence Gene and Gary regularly issue forth with boxes of mealworms, parcels of artwork, and give Chet Baker three bikkits with every visit.

We all know we pass by various risks every day just in going about life and we can mostly be oblivious or at least in denial, but this risk has been made more immediate and real to us all via the information you've collected. A risk that keeps us awake at night is too much risk when we can do something about it. You are brave to know that you have come to that point.

I am beyond thrilled to help. I learn so much from you and enjoy every second of it. This is the very least I can do to return some of the joy you've given me.

The check is in the mail. For real!

Hi Julie: I just had a conversation with my veterinary pathologist colleague who is very familiar with rabies and rabid animals. He said the risk of aerosol infection is valid but minimal. It, of course, is from the saliva which carries the virus. He cited an experiment where normal animals were kept in cages in a cave filled with bats and they contracted rabies. His recommendation is that anyone handling bats should be vaccinated. Two cases we have had first hand are from bats(Little Brown) which have been submitted for other reasons (broken wing, can't fly, etc.). These bats were euthanized and then sent for testing. Both turned out positive even though they showed no signs of rabies. Hope this is helpful information.

Julie, please consider opening a Paypal account (I guess you've never shopped on eBay). It doesn't take long and then we can shoot the money to you seconds.

Uff da, I see you can't edit your comments. I meant "IN seconds".

Plus, I'm guessing folks will be more willing to contribute when they can do it so quickly thru Paypal.

I have what I assume is a bachelor pad behind my windowbox for bats each summer. It's surprising how early they arrive here in Mnnesota. Much earlier than the flying insects.

Hi Sherry,

Once again, my readers lead me by the hand. Such a Luddite--I use a debit card only when I have no choice, and avoid credit cards like the plague. But I'm setting up a Paypal account as we speak. I've discovered that people are much more likely to buy things at shows when they can use plastic, so making it easier in this situation is definitely a smart thing to do. Heartfelt thanks for the little kick in the rear, Sherry, and for using Uff da! I hear that when I'm in ND and always get such a kick out of it.

A Nebraska bluebirder who considers your blog a high point of the week [was daily] also wants you to keep on blogging. Check is in the mail.

Make that appointment with the vet for your shot. Money is on the way.

Posted by Anonymous March 26, 2010 at 8:10 AM

I love those xray photos! Like you, I was struck by how much they remind me of us, people. The ribs, the spine, the arms. Not in our proportions, but we share these features and they connect us. How marvelous!

My checks wending it's way up the Ohio River....

Your writing about the rescued bat and all the discussion it's stimulated has been great. I agree with Anon above: get that shot asap, the check is in the mail. We all want you safe and unworried. I have a feeling you'll need to think a bit about what to do with the excess funds about to arrive in the Julie Health Fund.

I'm so glad to see you've got a good response to your appeal, Julie; I'm pretty much in your boat, or I'd contribute as well. It's important to take health seriously, but hard when it's tied so directly to finances.

Love those x-ray images, that's wild. I'm a little surprised about the exposure of the fetuses to x-rays, though, given all the precautions that are taken any time we get even minor x-rays done.

Julie, So glad you posted this. The check is in the mail! Love the bat stories and the education.

You all make me cry. Thank you. I am moved.

I am proud and pleased to say that I used the afternoont to wrestle my Luddite demons to the ground and even clumsily installed a PayPal "DONATE" button on the lower left side of the blogpage. You just scroll down to the bottom to find it. My WebWitch will doubtless be fine-tuning its placement by and by. But it works! and that's about the extent of my http coding skilz.

Thank you, Sherri! I did it! I did it! (several online tutorials on PayPal for Dummies later).

Your fear is absolutely reasonable. I remember reading about a girl dying of rabies. She had had no known contact with bats except seeing a bat during a hike in the woods. I'll send you a contribution via PayPal.

I'm so late but I'm so IN.

I hope the shot(s) don't hurt much. Get them.


Craven never - after all of the wonder and common sense and stories and all else that we get - for FREE! - loving this series about Dee Dee (that brown bat pup though - a creature only a Mum could love!) - and glad to help keep you safe.

Donate to keep Chet Baker's Mom going!!

This comment has been removed by the author.

Julie, I have been unemployed since August, but your blog brings joy and interesting information to me, so I paypaled some $$ to you so that we can enjoy you for as long as you want to entertain and educate us!

Glad to add my small bit to the "Keep Zick Healthy" fund, via the PayPal link. Thank you for asking - people do want to help when someone who gives so much could use a little boost.

To my understanding, there are only two situations of possible aerosol transmission of rabies. One was in a lab setting where the virus was sprayed into a cage with animals - I don't think live bats were present as that would lead to the potential for transmission by bite. The other was a case of a bat biologist in a cave with millions of bats. There remains the question, even though he said he wasn't bit, maybe he was. If not, then why don't more bat biologists have problems. According to the Center for Disease Control there has never been transmission of rabies via blood, feces or urine.

Nice piece on bat pups. They are very sweet, as are most babies. You are correct that you want her back in the wild where she can be the best mother possible.


My heart is with you; Bill's right about the timing. There is some old wive's tale about when a sharpie shows, it's time for bats to go...

I am grateful for your dedication, love and work. And,XXOOM.

Posted by Anonymous March 28, 2010 at 2:32 PM
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