Saving Wildlife, One Bat At A Time

The slumbering bat in my aquarium fit the description of a big brown bat, whose profile I found on the internet. His relatives live all over North America, from the far north of Canada through the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean Islands and the northern part of South America. Although called “big” it is of medium size, being about 13 cm (5 inches) in length, with a wingspan of 30-33 cm (12-13 inches).  It has brown to glossy copper fur on it back and a lighter colour on its belly. Its ears are small, rounded and black in colour as are its wing membranes and tail. It has fleshy lips and a rather broad nose for the size of its face.

This bat can live for 18-20 years although many succumb in their first year because they run out of body fat before the end of their hibernation. For their long sleep they seek hibernation in caves, mines, walls, attics, and an assortment of buildings where they can hunker down out of the cold. It is almost certain that my visitor came from the next-door neighbour’s wall-opening.

Although these big brown bats mate in the fall, the females do not become pregnant until the spring, as they are able to store the sperm until that time. They have one or two offspring, born blind and without fur, and so completely dependent on their mothers for nourishment. The babies, called pups, are able to take flight after a month to six weeks if they have not fallen prey to snakes, owls, cats, or raccoons that like to snack on them. They are swift travelers, reaching speeds of 70 kmph (40 mph) while catching their meals – mainly insects such as moths, wasps, flies, and flying ants. But their food preferences are beetles, whose hard shells they can crack open with powerful jaws.

To avoid obstacles, and to capture their prey, the bats use echolocation, which, according to experts, enables them to send out sounds and then listen to the echo of those calls that return from various objects near them. They use these echoes to locate and identify those objects. Thus, bats are able to use sound in order to “see.”

After tending the little creature for four days in the warm basement, feeding it water, that it appreciated, and mealy worms, that it did not like, it started to become livelier as it crawled around its enclosure. On the fifth day the weather became markedly warmer, rising to 12 degrees, and so I decided to act on the professor’s advice to release it to find a new home. I carried the aquarium upstairs to the front porch, opened the lid, and tugged my curious dog back inside. We left the bat, hoping it would find suitable shelter to continue its hibernation and be ready to take to the skies in the spring, raise a family, and live a long, happy life.  About an hour later I checked to find that the bat had flown away.

I am certain that if the big brown bat had been able to offer thanks, it would have left a note of appreciation to the professors, Vimy, and me, for saving its life. It was an exhilarating feeling to know that I was partly responsible for prolonging the life of such a truly remarkable creature, a creature that can delay pregnancy after mating, dine while flying at high speed in complete darkness, sleep through the winter months, and is the only mammal on earth capable of powered flight. How thrilling that the big brown bat stopped at my home for a brief visit, even if it introduced itself by crash-landing on my porch and scaring the wits out of my slumbering dog.


Saving Wildlife, One Bat At A Time

Dr. James F. McDonald is a retired elementary school principal who lives in Dundas, ON.
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