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The Penguin and The Bat...a Love Story

Date/Time Permalink: 06/16/06 03:59:34 am
Category: General

Since moving to Iowa a few years back after a lifetime in the SouthWestern United States, it's been a process of slow adjustment. Honest to God, everything about the place makes me feel like I was born somewhere else by mistake - if I belong anywhere in the US, I belong here.

But after all those years of desert dwelling, the endless flora and fauna of Iowa is something I'll just have to get used to one plant and creature at a time. Last summer, it was a fight to the death with what is laughably called a "house centipede", who didn't like that I'd moved into his basement, and who evaded capture for three days before launching a counterattack by ambushing my balding scalp from the basement ceiling. This year, I had my very first ever encounter with a bat. Say hello to Lasiurus Cinereus, aka the Hoary Bat:

Hoary Bat roosting

It was just before sunset and my daughter and I were outside, having just finished working in the garden. We wandered into the front yard and I ambled out to the path and noticed a small gray lump on the sidewalk which I thought was either a dead bird or dead rodent. "Awww", I said, taking a step closer to examine whether it had fur or feathers. I was about a foot away from it when the small gray lump popped out two glorious fur-lined leather wings totaling about a 16-inch wingspan, untucked a gold-and-silver head, flashed a mouthful of glittering white fangs, and hissed and spat just like a cat. It looked just like this:

Hoary Bat roosting

It does this in an effort to frighten away meddlers. The effort worked: I was immediately terrified. I jumped the hell away from it. My daughter broke from her usual habit of being way too curious for her own good and ran even further the hell away. Mrs. Penguin asserted that she could see everything just fine from inside the house behind closed doors and required no closer look, thank you. The bat clicked it's fangs at me audibly, just to drive home the point. Hiss! Click, click! Hissss!

OK, I retreated. And waited. It didn't fly off. It was smack on a public sidewalk where people walk their dogs, etc. I came walking up to it again. It did the same thing, but it didn't fly off. This time, it flapped it's wings at me so hard that it flipped over on it's back like a turtle, revealing two squirming gray furry blobs on it's belly nearly as big as it was, minus the wingspan. Like I wasn't grossed out already.

Well, potentially rabid creatures eager to bite just wouldn't do in the yard where my kids play, so I did the only thing I could think of and used my snow shovel to gently scoop it into a cardboard box. Keep in mind, I don't know jack about bats. At this point, I don't know if it's sick, wounded, has tumors, or what. But five minutes later, the only other thing I could think of was to call Animal Control, which was closed for the night in this poky little town.

So I glommed to the Internet and Googled. Turns out that (a) bats lactate. Nipples, milk, and all. Ewwww! Bat milk! (b) though the pups (baby bats) usually hang out in a tree while mom flies after meals, they will occasionally cling to mom and the weight will drag her down so she's too tired to fly and is grounded, (c) encounters between human and hoary bat are exceedingly rare, especially in a populated area, and (d) bats are now considered the most endangered species in the US.

I checked on her again. She was curled in a lump in the box, and hissed again when I opened the lid. Then she nosed down and licked one of the silver wriggling blobs. Yep, babies alright.

I followed every further instruction on the Internet I could find. I put the box up where she was safe from predators. I tipped it on it's side where she could get out (outdoors, of course). I tried the offer-it-a-stick-to-cling-to trick, but all it did was try to bite the stick. I wasn't about to try to handle it, even with gloves. It didn't appear injured. It was way too frisky to be sick. The closest I could deduce was that it had either become tired, been driven from it's colony, evaded attack, or was overheated (it was 92 degrees today). I figured to leave it over night so it could leave on it's own, or if it was still there by morning, call an expert.

So I stayed up on Bat Watch most of the night, until finally when I checked at 2 AM, the little family was gone, evidentially having done their bat thing and flown off in search of dinner or a new roost. By that time, I was almost disappointed; they'd grown on me. I'd learned so much about these magnificent creatures in these hours, I remarked to Mrs. Penguin that I could almost make a pet out of one, if they weren't illegal. I only recommend making a remark like that to your SO if your marriage is extremely secure.

Bat links:
Organization for Bat Conservation
Batworld Sanctuary
Batworld - what to do with a found bat
Bat Conservation Trust UK
Flying Fur - the BatBlog!

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