by Karen Slote
Today is a day to celebrate bats. I am going to do things a little differently. I am not going to tell you why bats are important to people because bats are not here to serve us. Bats do provide countless ecosystem services that allow humans to exist and thrive on this beautiful planet, however bats are important just because they are bats, and they are super cool, and they belong here.
I shall speak from the viewpoint of a bat rehabilitator, since that is who I am. Rehabilitation of these animals is challenging, not because the bats are hard to take care of, but because of the strict rules governing bat rehabilitation. Bats need friends of the human variety in order to survive the world that we impose upon them, and they are deserving of our care when our actions cause them harm. Bats are misunderstood and feared and are often unfairly blamed for spreading diseases. These falsehoods will continue unless the truth about bats is shared and people learn compassion for our fuzzy, flying neighbors. Being a bat rehabilitator is one small way I can help.
I will introduce you to some of the individuals I have had the honor of rehabilitating over the past 7 years. Since each bat has a unique personality and story to share, I have chosen to give them names. This is not something I typically do with the animals I rehabilitate, nor do I consider them pets in any way. This is my way of showing appreciation for the bats I have come to know and love. Here are their stories:
The big brown bat is by far the most common species of bat that is found by people and brought to me for rehabilitation. Its scientific name, Eptesicus fuscus, which means "house flyer", shows their affinity for human habitations.
Mini-me had been sleeping in an attic as many big brown bats do, but became entangled in roofing tar while exiting her roost. Sadly, she was stuck and struggling on the roof for many hours, out of the reach of help. Late that night, Mini-me freed herself from the roof and fell to the ground. She was finally rescued, but by the time she got to me she was angry, exhausted, and completely encrusted in hardened tar. We both had a long night of tedious tar removal ahead of us. She had no way of knowing my intentions to help her, yet she was very tolerant of my actions.
Mini-me's treatment included having mineral oil rubbed into her fur, ears, face and delicate wing membranes to gradually soften the tar. Finally the whole greasy mixture had to be washed off. She showed her indignation and I suspect called me many things that I am happy I did not understand, but once the entire procedure was over, so was her anger. The next day Mini-me was sitting quietly and gently taking mealworms from the very person who put her through so much just the night before.
Individual bats will sometimes form social relationships with other bats. Some have friendships, providing each other companionship and comfort, while others squabble and prefer to keep their distance. The following is a story of brotherly love.
Lenny and Squiggy, two tiny tricolored bats (Perimyotis subflavus), were found on the floor of a barn, clinging to their deceased mother. From the moment they arrived, they were stuck to each other like glue – they couldn't get close enough. They only weighed about 2 grams
each, yet they had so much energy, they wouldn't settle down for a moment. I initially tried to feed them one at a time, but soon realized that was not going to work. They simply did not want to be apart from one another. It was only when they were put together did they feel comfortable enough to start to eat. Lenny and Squiggy caught on quickly after that and very much enjoyed their food. The need to suckle in infant bats is very strong. Sometimes Squiggy would suckle on his brother in a most unfortunate place. In order to prevent permanent damage, the brothers were housed in 2 separate mesh enclosures until Lenny could heal and they outgrew this behavior, however they continued to eat together at feeding time. The moment they were reunited was incredibly endearing as they realized that they could once again snuggle together. They grew strong together, learning how to munch bugs and perform the aerial acrobatics required to catch flying insects. They were released late that summer back to their home, and I am hoping they are still together!
The largest bat in New York state is the hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus). When brought into captivity, these beautiful bats can at first give a bad impression. Unlike their big brown bat cousins who prefer to be wrapped in a soft cloth when handled, this sort of confinement causes hoary bats much aggravation. They can appear vicious, but they are actually just showing their displeasure. Hoary bats like to do things on their own terms. Things may start off difficult, but once the hoary bat and I come to an understanding, a trust between us is formed. When Allison arrived, her broken wing was dangling as she huddled in the corner of a cardboard box. Because she was very skinny and too weak to move, I didn't get the usual hoary bat greeting. I knew the wing was bad, but she deserved a chance. Surgery was required to repair Aliison's wing, but that was just the first part of her healing. The wing was also infected and needed frequent cleaning and medicating. Every day she would willingly come out of her hiding place and patiently sit while I attended to her wounds. Despite being on pain medications, manipulating the wing for treatments must have caused her discomfort, yet she tolerated her treatments very well and never showed any aggression. As she healed and got stronger, she continued with her gentle ways and seemed to understand that I did not want to harm her. Allison was special and I will never forget the memorable relationship I had with her.
My hope for bat appreciation day is for people to realize there is no need to be afraid of these gentle creatures. They have the qualities of the kind people of this world. They deserve our kindness in return.