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Stella Arrives!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

I'd only had Mirabel for a few days when I got a Facebook message from our friend John in Marietta. It seems a bat had found its way into a bedroom and, after vacating the room, John returned in the morning to capture it. He didn't want to just put it outside as it was in the 30's, and he figured I'd know what to do.

I asked John to put it in a tight container with airflow, to put some soft cloth in with it for it to hide in, and to deliver it to Bill at Bird Watcher's Digest. Then called Bill to let him know there was a bat incoming.

And this was my first look at Stella Battista. Oh my darling, let me free you from that jar.

Clinging to a pair of black panties she was, a beautiful little gem of a bat. Quick check: a female. Now, once I put them together, how would I ever tell her from Mirabel Battista?

Well, Stella's a blonde! Where Mirabel has a black face and arms and ears, Stella's are pink. And Stella's fur is ever so much lighter, honey to Mirabel's mahogany.  Here's dark little Mirabel:

And here's Stella, the impetuous blonde. She's got a pretty set of batlips on her, don't she?

In the top photo, note Mirabel's robust claw, which is actually the nail of her first finger. Very important claw for clinging and locomotion.  Stella's claws were worn to  nubs and a little bloody, telling me that she might have been caught and struggling for some time, perhaps scrabbling against a plaster wall? Enough to wear those vital claws all the way down. Not good. She'd need time and rest and food to regrow the nails.

While Mirabel is self-feeding, it's not clear that Stella has the hang of it yet. Since bats eat in the still of the night, it's difficult to catch them at it. So the mealworms may disappear, but when you have two to worry about, you can't be sure that one bat isn't getting the whole load. They can be amazingly piggish, presented with a bowl full of mealworms. I'm talking fifty a night! I let it go for a few days, figuring that both were eating, but my gram scale told the story. Stella was losing weight, and Mirabel was gaining. So I started hand-feeding Stella again. After four days, I got them both to 20 grams, which is right where they should be for hibernating.

Feeding Stella is a pleasure. See those little worn-off claw nubs? Poor girl. She has a hard time climbing.

Stella was so hungry at her first hand-feeding after the three days she'd been fasting that if I didn't get a mealworm to her quickly enough she'd gnaw my glove!! Yipes!! Note to self: Buy new gloves. These are a bit beat, a little thin around the edges. I like West Country gloves the best for handling bats. Very pliable but also thick and protective.

Here's my little blonde beauty, all fed up and ready to scuttle back under her towel and cuddle with her new BFF, Mirabel.  They play Batty Stacky.

As I write, from a hotel room in New York, Bill's just taken the bats out to the detached, unheated garage to wait out my two-week trip to South Africa. Before taking that step, I did some calling around and got good information from the Organization for Bat Conservation, in the person of my friend, the dynamic and creative Rob Mies. 

Although the Ohio Wildlife Center had advised me that once a bat is warmed up and eating, it should be kept that way until the weather warms in spring, I got to thinking about that, and wondered if it was the right thing to do. Talking with Rob confirmed my suspicion that bats come in and out of torpor throughout the winter. According to Rob, bats hibernating as far north as Alberta come out and fly around in five degree weather! Grabbing a drink, changing roosts...nobody really knows. And these are healthy bats, not touched by white-nose syndrome, which is notorious for forcing bats out to forage in subfreezing temperatures.

Rob told me that he has sources dating back to the early 20th century documenting bat hibernation in captivity. Some people kept them all winter in cold temperatures without feeding them at all; some took them out once a month and fed and watered them, then put them back. And it struck me that there was no reason two bats in good weight couldn't go out in their screened tank to our unheated garage for a couple of weeks, where they'd be sheltered, but at a natural ambient temperature. One where they wouldn't need food. Because nobody handles bats in our house except me, because I'm the only one with the rabies shots. So either these bats were going to hibernate while I was gone, or they'd have to go to OWC. I picked A. Hibernate.

So I fed them up to the last minute and then, after a cold snap had passed, Bill cracked the window in their aviary open to let them cool down slowly, then transferred them to the garage. He left a bunch of mealworms and some water just in case. I'm eager to peel back the towels when I get home and see my little beauties. I'm thinking they'll be just fine, as nature intended. 

And they were. Both had been eating and drinking out in the garage while I was gone, and Bill put fresh food and water in as it disappeared. (The bats stay under their towel when you take the lid off the tank). Both were weighing in around 18 grams, just perfect for a hibernating big brown. I was elated that we'd found a natural way to keep them at more normal ambient temperatures, with food and water available as needed. They didn't eat as much as they did when they were all warmed up, but that's probably better for them in the long run. And man, were they frisky when I took them out to check on them, flapping their wings and trying to fly. 

South Africa was great. I just need time and world enough to edit fifty gazillion photos...kind of a busy spring around here.


Neat, neat, neat! I just knew there had to be a Stella somewhere! Favorite book of my kids,is Stellaluna.

I'm fascinated, appreciating their beauty and learning so much. Their ears seem so beautiful to me. Lovely ladies.

So very cool! Glad you found a way to keep them comfortable and alive. :)

I suspect that the second bat would have been just fine if it had been released immediately to make its way back into the world. I wonder if our desire to hold "cuteness" in our hands sometimes interferes with greater wisdom . . .

Glad you are still doing your rehab/rescue work.

Hope to read all about your S.A. trip soon

Diane--are you a bat rehabilitator? I'm always looking to learn from people with more experience than I have. The problem with releasing Stella is that she was considerably underweight and she had worn her climbing "thumbs" down to bloody nubs, so she couldn't cling. And it was in the 20's the day she was found, having spent a night burning her fat reserves, circling a warm bedroom. Releasing her outside would likely have been a death sentence. Trying to do the right thing here, and while the bats are cute, I'm keeping them in a cold garage and not handling them at all. But please do enlighten me if you've got a better handle on overwintering bats in Ohio.

Love the bat stories. Enjoy every word.

You've inspired me to put up the bat house I bought several years ago!! Putting it up involves someone (NOT ME) standing in the tractor bucket to attach the house to the side of the barn. I'll look for a volunteer! I do have a couple of bats that I see hanging by the box stalls--and I appreciate their bug catching!

amazing bat t'aime, bebe.xom.

Posted by Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 3:09 PM
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