I don’t have pictures for this blog. You’ll understand why later.
The other day, after a glorious summer’s day of hot, sweaty, herb gathering and chicken tending, followed by a relaxing evening watching a favorite show with hubby, I decided to take a delicious shower before finally settling into a well deserved rest late at night.
As I stepped out, clean and wet with just a towel on, I noticed the bathroom door wide open and my nearby bedroom door was shut. Unusual. We have not closed the bedroom door in 17 years due to roaming German Shepherds who like to sleep with us, and in the past, a kid who might come and go in the night. I figured the door was open because of aforementioned Shepherds who like to check on my safety while I’m showering. However, the closed bedroom door was definitely odd.
“Why is the door closed?” I called out as I toweled off, to my husband, thinking he was inside.
“There’s a Bat in there.” I heard from downstairs.
“Oh. My pajamas are in there.” I said.
“So is the Bat” he deadpanned.
As most of my friends know, I love bats. For many years while I earned my living as an Environmental Educator, I taught classes on the many benefits of living in harmony with them, and their documented social intelligence, economic and environmental boons.
However, late at night, naked, and half asleep is still not the ideal way to renew acquaintances.
Sigh. I slipped into the bedroom, speaking softly to the still invisible Little Brown Bat. I knew s/he would probably have found a quiet little nook to re-evaluate this unfortunate turn of events. He didn’t want to be there any more than I wanted him to be there. I also knew it was likely a juvenile who was confused and most certainly this bat was more worried about me than I was about it. Important to remember when having to interact with another species is how dangerous that other species thinks you are. Hence, the quiet talk. The slow easy breathing and thoughts of how my only wish was to gather him up and gently escort him outside to the night.
Bats are vital – economically and environmentally world-wide. In 1994 (publication of the nearest book on Bats that I reached for off my bookshelf) more than 300 economically important plant species, producing over 450 commercial products, were known to depend on bats for pollination in the Old World alone. For example, the Durian fruit contributes $120 million each year to the economy of Southeast Asia. (1994 data from my Golden Guide to Bats of the World). This estimate has surely gone up since then. I invite you to look up current facts on Bats and all they do for us, and the current challenges they are facing. In our part of the world, bats are insectivorous and indispensable to maintaining insect balance for our crops and comfort. Even the Vampire Bat (who only lives in South America) benefits humans by having a component of their saliva that prevents blood clotting that may be used to prevent heart attacks in humans. Guano is not only a valued fertilizer but has bacteria in it that is used to treat chemical wastes and in the production of gasahol and detergents. There are so many other ways that we may not even have discovered yet that bats’ existence benefits people, in the way that most of the natural world is interconnected.
I remembered that the Little Brown Bat doesn’t have a mouth big enough to bite me very easily with. Still, I don’t take chances, and I use common sense when forced into a situation of interaction. Having handled many of these while assisting Bat Conservation International with an Autumn Species Count many years ago, I still vividly remember late one dark cool night, being surrounded by hundreds or thousands of various species of bats as they darkened the stars behind them with their sheer numbers. They were having their last night or two of “partying” before hibernating. Swarming in a dense cloud, feeding on bugs to store up fat reserves for hibernation, making love, being social, and doing as yet not understood activities as they prepared for the long winter ahead, I was in complete awe of them. This time is important as the prepare themselves to make it all the way to Springtime without eating again or moving much.
We stretched a net nearby to interrupt the flight of what we hoped would be a representative count. All of us Naturalists then set to work gently extricating tiny bat feet and claws from the net, then determining characteristics such as the sex, approximate age, and identifying the species in our hands before setting them free. I started out with big leather gloves because I was a newbie then, and was a bit nervous. It soon became apparent that gloves were extremely awkward and just frightened the bats, as you really had to manhandle them to extradite them. So, off came the gloves. What I soon realized was that if I was calm and moved slowly and gently, the bats of whatever species would be placid and almost appeared tame. If I appeared nervous or hurrying, they would also often become agitated and sometimes even try to defend themselves from the giantess who was interrupting the party/shopping trip. In a cloud that darkened the moonlit sky considerably, as I stood among them, I marveled at how not even one ever bumped into me, though they swooped all around and close to me, catching bugs and doing who-knew-what.
Back to the present. Once I had on some clothing, I evaluated my options. Having 35 years as a trained Naturalist and Wildlife Rehabilitator, a deep appreciation for the scientific order of Chiroptera, and being inoculated against Rabies, gives me a real advantage in such situations. I still do not handle bats (or any wild animal) with my bare hands. This is called common sense. My most used options are a box and stiff cardboard to sidle him into and carry her outside, or a towel to place over her and gently pick him up with wings pinned while carrying to the open window.
Once I found the little guy, at one point he dropped down and landed on the back of my calves, as I was kneeling on a wooden chest. The furry little microchiroptera looked very uncomfortable and as I twisted to try to pick her up, she crawled over to my other calf. It tickled. Bats can’t take off from the ground like birds can. Totally different wing, bone and body structure make it so they need to drop down and take off from a height. The resulting swooping around a room that happened when my first pick up attempt failed, is the result of how awkward it is to fly in a tight space where you have to land up high enough to drop down for your next take off. The myth about bats becoming entangled in your hair is just that – a myth. When I was surrounded in the darkest night at the bat hibernaculum, while they swooped around and above me, not one ever touched me in any way. I was the only one who broke the polite and real distance bats prefer between us. If you’ve ever tried to swoop around a 15 foot square room with webbed wings, well, then you’ll know why it appears that bats are coming at you – it’s almost impossible to navigate gracefully in that small a space while flying, even if you do have better radar capabilities than our military’s best.
Finally, I was able to very gently pry him from the stone wall where he was clinging, and quickly open the towel outside the previously opened window and watch him fly into the night. A healthy, grateful bat was gone, relieved to be far away from me, and most likely wiser for the experience.
Most bats are clean, healthy and non-aggressive to humans. Precautions should be taken as with any wild animal, and people must avoid handling or unnecessary interactions (which most are). Rabies is present in less than 0.5 % of the population, a percentage no higher than what is observed in most other mammals. Like other mammals, bats cannot carry the virus without becoming sick and dying. Rabies does not spread extensively among bats and is only extremely rarely transmitted to humans. Fewer people have died from bat rabies in the last 50 years than have died from dog bites and bee stings in one year alone. That being said, if a bat appears sick, common sense must be used and greater care taken. Anyone being bitten by any wild animal should wash the wound well with soap and water and seek medical care immediately.