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.


  1. How interesting. It seems that most people are afraid of bats as we have been told that bats carry rabies. Since they sleep during the day we arn't able to observe them very often.

  2. Any mammal that is not inocculated can be infected with rabies, which is why the law demands that at least dogs are vaccinated in 1 -3 year intervals. Cats should be vaccinated as well if they are allowed outdoors (which I strongly advocate against because cats maim and kill so much wildlife). Rabies is transmitted via the saliva, not the blood, and the rabies virus needs a moist environment to survive. It dies within minutes in dry conditions. Bats lick themselves clean rather frequently, so it is possible that an infected bat, without biting you, could transmit the virus if you touch it with bare hands and have a fresh scratch through shich the virus can enter. That is why you should always use gloves or cloth when handling a bat. They are not aggressive but of course will try to defend themselves if scared. I have always been fascinated by bats, they are incredible flyers and a joy to watch as they go after their tiny dinners. If you go to you will learn a lot of fascinating facts about these tiny wonders.

  3. just came by to say:
    Happy Valentine's Day!