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Big Brown Batgirl

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus

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!

And on Sunday I'll tell you more about the big brown bat. There is a lot to tell.


Captivating Chiroptera, Batgirl!

What a tale, can't wait to read the "rest of the story"!

I love bats. She's beautiful and in good hands.

-Jain Watson

Posted by Anonymous March 11, 2010 at 12:28 PM

I smiled and snickered and giggled all through your story! I love your mother-in-law and want to be just like her when I grow up!! Can't wait for more! Have fun with your lectures! Wish I lived nearby. ~karen

Ho, Ho, Ho, He, He, He, Little Brown Bat how I love thee!!

(Wow, I think I'm REALLY showing my age here)

What's a possumlady gotta do to get you back to the National Zoo?!

I'm not clear how the whole "rabies vector" factor fits into this home captivity scenario??? (or have you been vaccinated because of your frequent dealings with wildlife?)
...otherwise, cute critter.

We make bat detectors. So if you ever need an echo-locator to find out where Dee Dee is, drop me a line. I'd be happy to hook ya up with one of the best ultrasonic bat detectors known to man.

I Love Bats.

Batman and Robin, and the caped crusaders live.

I'm with you, loving bats.
Here's my brief bat story--I was asked to preach (no kidding) at a Presbytery meeting. It was in a small country church on a hot summer night. In the middle of my sermon, a bat flew into the church and circled around.
I am not one to freak at bats, so I simply suggested that the bat may in fact be a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. . .and went on preaching.
True story.

Look at that face. I see how you fell in love with her. She has such an other-worldly beauty. I never believe that bats are really mammals. I am convinced that is a fiction created to hide the truth about the exotic planet they really come from. How lucky for you to be spending time with this emissary from the other world.

Thank you so much for taking care of her. I love bats, a little fearful of them, but love and respect them all the same. And when you consider how many are dying from God only knows what, your mother-in-law's and your care means the world.

Posted by Anonymous March 11, 2010 at 4:56 PM

I'm in a bat-love haze. She's adorable!

I would expect nothing less than,

"And I have a small suspicion that I'm falling out of fear and into love.

That's my Science Chimp, and, I'll bet, if you were cricketless, you would have driven to town to get them.

From someone who has only seen bats swooping around at dusk, I'm charmed by this. Thank you.


Aw Julie, what a neat story. It's so neat to see those up-close pictures of your bat too.

Excellent liger drawing!

She is adorable and so bright-eyed -- and resting on such a lovely color of blue (my fav).
Have you an idea of how much she sleeps in a day? Is she missing something by not being officially hibernating?

There is always something that has intrigued me so much about bats. They are so beautiful not to mention cute as a button! Julie you are just too cool! Wish wish wish I could leave work and travel to come see you speak! Maybe someday! Good Luck speaking, and with that cutie pie!


Posted by Anonymous March 11, 2010 at 7:59 PM

There's some kind of newish and mysterious bat disease going around here in the Northeast. I forget what it's called, but I remember something about fungus and white noses. I also recall that it causes bats to leave hibernation prematurely. I hope that's not the case with your little friend.

Great story! I once had a bat flying through my living room, but fortunately it found its way back into the attic where it was roosting. Sadly the bat population here in NE has crashed due to White Nose Syndrome and is unlikely to recover since bats only rear one pup a year.

White Nose Syndrome, which has a fungal component, is still a mystery, but it has the potential to cause the single most devastating crash in a wildlife population (or populations) that we've ever seen. Already it has killed untold numbers of bats in the Northeast. It causes wasting, forces them out of hibernation in midwinter, and they fly around in subfreezing temperatures, looking for food, until they die of starvation and exposure. It is a truly horrible disease. It has not yet been found in Ohio, but it is as close as Morgantown, WV, and any disease of winged creatures, like West Nile, can spread very rapidly. As you can imagine, WNS and the prospects that it will decimate our bats, breaks my heart. So I'm telling a happier bat story, in hopes of inspiring empathy for all bats by telling it.

Dee Dee is healthy; she just found her way down a chimney into a living room, which is something big brown bats are good at doing.

Falling out of fear and into love.
That's perfect.

I too am a bat lover, and rescuer of sorts. Having worked at a humane society doing wildlife rescue, I've had my share of bat handling, and as a result am called upon any time one makes its way into our house. Towels and the big thick leather gloves we use at the wood stove work great for bat capture.

Love this happy story!

Finally! I have been awaiting this story for (is it months?) from all the hints you drop on Facebook!

What a gorgeous girl!

Who drew the liger?

Great story. I can close my eyes and visualize you and Elsa tracking down that bat. Good luck, keep us posted. I'm glad you're well rehearsed at letting critters that worm their way into your heart free.

My pending murder in the list of tags??? Susan E

Posted by Anonymous March 12, 2010 at 9:45 AM

I completely wigged out my coworkers one cold day about 15 years ago when they learned that I'd had a bat -- that I'd found at the base of a skyscraper -- in a paper bag in the office. It was perfectly fine, and a threat to no one -- except maybe my incredibly thick suede/fleece glove, which it bit as soon as I went to pick it up. So I dropped the glove, and it, into the bag, and took it to work till I could gin up an excuse to get out of the office and take it to a rehabber. Which I did.

Thus did I seal my reputation as an unrepentant nature geek, and earn the nickname Bat Girl.

I've had occasion to rescue three bats on my property in the past 30 years. Each I took to a rescue facility in Oak Ridge. Better for the bats, and easier on me. I loved being able to see them up close. I'll be coming back to your blog to check on the bat.

Great bat story, Julie! I remember the little bats we had and the meal worms you gave me to feed them. they were cute little things, I hope they made it too.

Never seen a bat that up close and personal. They're pretty cute.
Any chance you might be talking in Chicago one of these days?

fascinating... and I would be in love with that little lady too. Thanks for making her feel better.

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