Monday, January 20, 2014

Overwintering Big Brown Bats

With the White Nose Syndrome killing off our cave hibernating bats at a hugely alarming rate, with a 90% mortality rate in infected caves and spreading across the continent like wildlfire, it is of utmost importance that we save every last bat we can.  And with the death of my good friend and mentor Fran, the director of our association which may now also coming to its end, a huge gap has been created since she always took in bats.  Many rehabbers do not.  I am one of the few who happens to adore bats, I always have.  So now I will have to crash-course learn all I can about bats, with one skilled bat rehabber nearly three hours away but willing to help me learn as much as she can long distance.

My current count of overwintering, semi-hibernating bats is three, and all are big brown bats.  Their colors vary, two are a more dark chocolate brown, while one is milk chocolate colored.  In the pictures I am holding the little milk chocolate bat, which at first wasn't thrilled and made a lot of buzzing sounds but quickly calmed down in my glove once it realized I was no threat.  Bats are highly intelligent and have a good memory, and they are quick learners.

Defensive bat.  Note how they push themselves up on their knuckles.  The tiny claws help them grab their prey in flight and aid with climbing.  

The fleece on the left is hung so the bats can cling to it when sleeping.  
 Slightly defensive bat.  Note that I am using gloves.  NEVER touch a bat without a glove or cloth, you doom the animal if you do to certain death since human health comes first.  The only way to test a bat for rabies, or any animal for that matter, is to cut its head off and examine the brain for characteristic telltale lesions.  Over 90% of examined bats proved to be healthy, but they had to be sacrificed to protect human life.  

My little bat, now calm in my gloved hand.  Had he not been awake I would not have disturbed him.  

Bats are incredibly beneficial little flying insect eating machines who can eat half their body weight in a single night. That means hundreds of mosquitoes less to transmit deadly diseases per night per bat!  When a bat buzzes close to your head it isn't out to get you, it is after the mosquitoes that are about to bite you.  Bats can navigate hundreds of fine criss-cross wires in a pitch black room without touching a single one, so this nonsense about bats getting entangled in people's hair is just that:  nonsense.

If a bat is trapped in your house for some reason, turn off the lights, open the windows, and help it find its way out.  If it falls on the ground, take a soft cloth, pick it up gently and place it into a tree.  And if you find a hibernating bat in your house and feel that it might get trapped come spring, find a wildlife rehabilitator who takes bats first or contact for guidance before you GENTLY and CAREFULLY pluck the torpid animal from its perch.  (If you're close to me, you call me, of course...  )  You don't want to damage any of the delicate toes.  Bats hang upside down when they sleep, and they make a buzzing sound when disturbed, similar to an angry bumble bee.  A bat that has been disturbed in hibernation will shiver to get its body temperature up to functioning levels, and that depletes much needed energy reserves meant to help the animal survive in deep sleep until spring.  That is why I let mine semi awaken, they have live, well fed mealworms and fresh water at their disposal. is a wonderful source for more information on these tiny flying mammals.  I hope you take the time and learn more about these amazing animals most of us know so little about.

Valentine, Valentino, Love Day...

After just writing a reply to Bibiana's comment on my last post, A Tribute to Popeye, it is time for something a bit more light-hearted.  February, while it still seems an eternity away, is right around the corner, and with it the sometimes dreaded pink and red colored Valentine's Day.

Well, I chose mainly purples and lavender and peach instead!  For good measure I made a few red and pink ones as well.  Flip cards are all the craze lately, and some new Sizzix dies have multi flips and cost a bundle.  I went back to the drawing board and made my flip cards with regular dies.  Not hard to do, but you have to be precise and be careful not to cut that center section.  There are lots of "how to" videos out on YouTube, but choose older ones, they don't use the new dies.  Making your own allows for the freedom of different size cards, whereas the dies confine you to "one size fits all".

I put them all on Etsy already, so it's about time I show them here as well.

Left is the closed card,                    right the open card.  Some are three paneled.

The fronts are decorated with specialty glitter card stock ornate hearts, and the glossy dimensional heart in the purple card I made myself.

Then I thought, who says Valentine's has to be red and pink? and made some green ones...

I glazed the frogs to make them look wet and slippery.  Aren't those "Frog Amore" cards the cutest?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A tribute to Popeye

Wildlife rehabilitation is often portrayed as holding cute little wild animals in one's hands and giving them formula as they suckle greedily.  A picture of utter peace and happiness.  The problem with that is that all too often such rosy pictures are not the reality.  Wildlife rehabilitation is one of the toughest and heart wrenching jobs one can take on, and one has to be ready for that and grow nerves of steel.  Firefighters do it, ER personnel do it, and wildlife rehabilitators have to do it.  The difference is that we do it without any pay.

I didn't want to write this story until the person who brought me Popeye knew about it.  Now she does, she is okay with it, so here it is.

Popeye arrived on 29 August 2013 around 7:30pm.  All I knew was that he was a baby squirrel about 7-8 weeks old "with an infected eye", but I had a suspicion that maggots might be the culprits.  Late summer we deal with lots of parasites, and they can be deadly if not dealt with immediately.  When I saw the squirrel I left the bringers standing on the porch and raced in the kitchen with the little guy in my hands.  It was the worst maggot infestation in an eye ball I had ever seen.  There were over 100 maggots wriggling and crawling in and out of the destroyed eye ball, it was a bloody mess.  The baby was in agony and I needed to act fast.  Warm distilled water in a flushing syringe which I had to refill over and over was the first line of defense, and the maggots were just dripping out in clumps.  Once I got a better view into the eye socket I realized that the maggots had already eaten their way through the tear duct into the sinus cavity.  From there they would chew their way into the brain...

The baby was too exhausted to move around much, and I was able to fill the now hollow eye socket with water until the maggots started to come up out of the sinus cavity for air.  Once out far enough I was able to grab them with fine tip tweezers and quickly yank them out, one at a time, dozens in all.  In between I took a break and spoke with the finders who were hovering on the porch despite my husband talking with them.  I didn't let them watch because I knew they wouldn't be able to handle what I had to do.  I was fighting for the baby's life, but I also had to now pay attention to the woman who was falling apart crying.  She had had the baby for nearly two days already and now felt terribly guilty, and I had to calm her down and explain to her that most people don't know about maggots and the devastation they can cause on orphaned and debilitated wildlife.

All in all I worked on the baby for well over two hours until the final maggot was out at last.  The baby was exhausted but alive, I gave him a dose of CAP Star and pain meds, and within an hour he drank lots of fluids and eventually diluted formula.

Left:  Popeye shortly after the last maggot had been removed.

Right:  Popeye snuggling in with his new nest mates.  He is the one in the front facing left.

Popeye continued to thrive and did well with his nest mates.  But the big question remained:  would he be able to adapt to just one eye?  How would he gauge distance and jumps without falling?  He was fine in the small indoor cage, but the test would come in the large and high outdoor cage.

 Popeye with his nest mates in the indoor cage.  He behaved perfectly normal but was a bit of a bully, possibly because he was afraid he might miss out if he didn't muscle his way into everything.  

The first three weeks in the outside cage he did fine, but I noticed that he wasn't even trying to jump.  He just climbed about the wire, and I needed to observe him jumping before I could even consider opening the cage for release of the group.

And then it happened.  I found him turning in circles at the bottom of the cage, disoriented, he must have taken a bad fall.  Popeye had been very independent until then and was untouchable, but he let me pick him up and put him in the carrier without a fight.  With a heavy heart I called the vet and asked if I could bring him in.  We didn't have to wait, we could come right away.

Last picture of Popeye on 10-30-13, two days before his accident on 11-1-13, happily eating a chestnut in the outside cage.  

Popeye was gently euthanized.  I remained by his side until he was gone.  Afterwards we talked, and the vet agreed that a squirrel with one eye will never be a candidate for release.  Yet sometimes animals adapt to the most incredible handicaps and do fine, that was the reason that I gave him a chance.  I have had squirrels with bitten-off tails that did well out in the wild, survived severe winters, and even raised babies.  But a one-eyed squirrel clearly is not able to adapt to its handicap.

Popeye had a happy childhood and was full of life until it came to a sudden end.  I am not sorry that I gave him a chance.  Deep down I knew that he couldn't be released, that is why I took my time with his entire group.  His nest mates now run around all over the back yard, and come spring many will disburse since they are mostly boys.

I decided to publish his story for two reasons:  as an educational tool, and also to  illustrate how an animal simply accepts what is, without whining, without feeling sorry for itself.  Had it not been for the maggots destroying his eye ball Popeye would have been a perfectly healthy and normal squirrel.  Yet he made the best of what he had, and he lived his short life to the fullest.

And that will always be his legacy...