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Red Bat Release: To the MOON, Alice!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Cards and letters keep rolling in. I do appreciate the outpouring, and the beautiful sentiments that let me know how much Chet Baker meant to those of you who have written. I'm saving them. I won't lie: it's hard for me to read them, when I spend much of each day trying so damn hard to forget and get on with things. Lots of times I have to refrain from opening the mail until I'm in the right frame of mind, feeling bulletproof. My speaking schedule is packed, and while I don't much feel like being in public, the travel has been a blessing.  I'm trying to get back to my running routes, but I usually end up in a puddle of tears as I remember him so vividly, running in front of me, nosing at that log, jumping that ditch, eyeing those cattle. I remember all the places where he used to cross the road so he could keep an eye on oncoming cars. He was so smart about cars. I even remember the spots where he liked to stop for a poop. With all that's going on right now, running helps keep me grounded, centered and sane, but there's a fresh dart to the heart every time I go out. Maybe I need to find some new routes, ones that aren't haunted by sweet apparitions.

They say the Universe sends us what we need. When the timing's right, it's magic. I couldn't have received a better gift on the Very Bad Day of September 1 than a red bat in need of love, comfort and wasp larvae. On this, our third installment, the bat is being fed for the last time, in preparation for release.

This isn't a great photo, as it was taken in very low light, but look at the gorgeous lines of this little animal as she investigates the padded Critter Keeper that would be her home for three days and two nights. I purposely keep short-term rehab bats in small plastic containers with toweling or nonskid drawer liner as padding, to keep them from breaking their delicate finger bones should they beat their wings against the sides. This bat was a model guest. Every time I checked on her, day or night, she was either sleeping or preening--she wasted no time or energy that I saw, trying to find a way out.

I just love the long slender forearm, the hand part of the wing being folded along it, the jet-black webbing crinkled up between hand and forearm. Her hind leg is extended, joined by a membrane to the tail and the other hind leg. Her head is up, and she's taking in information with eyes and nose. Once you get used to bat architecture you can begin to appreciate what a beauty she is.

She looks deceptively big and blimpy here. Most of what you're seeing is fur and membrane. Her little body is slender, and if you squint you can see her sides--quite vole-like, with a little waist, even--and the outline of her tail. The big furry areas along her sides are her coat--the heavily furred patagium, or wing membrane, that, along with the furry tail membrane, allows this little marvel of adaptation to wrap herself up and survive midwinter temperatures, hanging by one foot from a twig in the woods, pretending to be a dead leaf. 

Red bats are migratory, and you'll see them flying through Halloween and even into winter. I've seen them hunting insects on warm late January days. A good number, surprisingly, may stay around to winter here in southeast Ohio. But most are thought to head south. An excellent article at the Bat Conservation International website explains red bat hibernation strategy. A study of 13 male red bats wintering in southern Missouri (hardly subtropical!) showed that when temperatures dropped below freezing, the bats did, too--from tree branch roosts to the leaf litter below! 

Radiotelemetry showed that red bats used leaf litter on exposed south-facing slopes for roosting, and that they left the litter when temperatures became mild, to forage at night for moths. They went deep into torpor when temperatures were cold, buried or sometimes completely exposed in the leaf litter. Their vivid red-brown coloration makes more sense when you think of them hibernating beneath an oak in the litter.

The realization that red bats might hibernate in leaf litter was born when bats in many parts of temperate North America were observed flying up from the forest floor during prescribed winter forest burns. This led to the radiotelemetry study by Brad Mormann and Miranda Milam from which I've excerpted these notes. 

 I'm pretty sure you weren't hibernating, lying there on your back on a warm drizzly evening, Missy. I don't know what you were up to, but it wasn't good.

I'll never tell. Thank you for the room and board. I'm feeling much, much better now.

 Let's take a look at some more videos! In this one, you can see more of her body as she relaxes in my glove. I'm barely holding her, as she's so absorbed in her feeding that escape is far from her mind. 

I love this one, for the way she tackles a nearly mature paper wasp pupa. WOW. 

This movie gives you some excellent Tiny Pink Tongue action. She's fed, watered and ready to fly.

 To the MOON, Alice!!


There were three people documenting this momentous event with iPhones: Shila, Bill, and Liam. All the video here is Liam's, except for this slo-mo Bill took. It's really cool because if you can make it out in the dim light, you can see Alice turning on her sonar just before she takes off. She opens her lips and flares them as she sends out sonar signals. And then she works her wings free and heads for the moon.

I can always tell when a bat is plotting escape from my glove when it lifts its head, opens its mouth and turns its head rapidly side to side. It's scanning its environment with sonar. I may not be able to hear its ultrasonic sonar clicks, but I can see it emitting them.

This is how it feels to release a strong, healthy red bat who might otherwise have died.

The night was one bat more beautiful, and that's way more beautiful than it was before.


Thank you, Julie, for sharing your experiences and your highs and lows. You have touched a lot of lives, not just the four-legged kind. Your posts give me hope for our species.

Like worship. Hands open to the sky.

Wha hoppen to schlomo?

Even the happy posts make me cry!

The rad bat story has been very informative and inspirational. I thought all bats hibernated in caves. If the red bats hibernate in leaf litter, does this mean they would not be at risk from white nose syndrome?

@KlausK, you're correct in your supposition that red bats are not as susceptible to white nose syndrome as little browns, Indiana bats, and many of the Myotis species that overwinter in cool, damp caves. Big brown bats aren't as affected, either. That's not to say they couldn't get it, but cave environs definitely promulgate the fungus. This is the reason I was so outraged and upset when the State of Ohio, for four years running, required that all bats coming into rehabilitators' hands in winter be euthanized "so as not to spread WNS." Hogwash and rubbish. The bats we get are overwhelmingly big browns, which winter in cool dry attics and aren't affected by WNS. So we're supposed to euthanize them? I never did and never would.

Love, love, love this happy ending. You've expanded my knowledge, again, of our natural world.
Thank you. Bless you.

The best part...your laugh. Not sure how to describe it, but it's a delight to hear.

Awesome and what a handsome bat red bats are. I don't think we have them in OR but I sure wish we did.

Wonderful Julie! I love, love, love that first photo of her in your glove in this post. She is so beautiful. What a happy thing you have shared with us, thank you!

Big, big smile :-D

"How awesome was that?" I'll answer your question--totally!
It is terrific to be able to share in her release to the moon.

Oh, those release videos gave me cold chills and just lifted my heart. How wonderful

There's just something about releases that is so emotional. I was once with my cousin, a former bird-rehabber, in the FL Keys during a release, and the experience is still alive in me. Something about the end-of-care relief, the soaring flight, the regained freedom, the beauty? Just so much joy. What you do and share -- so appreciated. Kim in PA

Simply exquisite! I love her little pink tongue (who would have dreamed it?), and her appetite for all those fat wasp grubs! And then the take-off!!! Nothing like watching the characteristic flight of a bat. Reminds me of summer evenings growing up in Indiana and then our trip to Bali where bats in the evening came out in force.

And THAT'S the way you do it!!!(Applause, applause)

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