Batty for Bats

During the summer, the Wildlife Center of Virginia rehabilitates a variety of species. One of my personal favorites are bats. During the 12 weeks I spent as a summer extern, multiple baby bats came into our care. The most common species that we rehabilitate is the Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus).

When an injured or orphaned bat comes to the Wildlife Center, it first receives a physical exam. If deemed a healthy young animal, the bat is transferred to the rehabilitation side of the hospital where a rehabilitator determines the best feeding schedule and diet for the individual. The youngest bats are hand-fed a special milk replacer up to five times a day. There are two ways that we hand-fed the bats. One way was getting the bat to bite down on a small sponge (similar to the tip of an eye-shadow applicator) and slowly applying drops of the formula to the sponge, which the bat would then suck up. Another way was to directly syringe-feed the bat. For this method, the syringe required a small tip extender to ensure that the tip would fit into the bat’s mouth and that only a small amount of formula was given at a time. As the bat became older, mealworms were added to their diet. At first we would only hand-feed the bat the guts of the mealworms. As the bat started to eat larger amounts of the mealworm guts, we would feed it mealworms cut in half or even whole mealworms.

If an adult bat came into our care, we would try to teach it how to eat mealworms out of a bowl. To do this we would present the bat with a mealworm and then try to slowly lure it down to where the bowl of mealworms sat at the bottom of the enclosure. If the bat could learn to eat out of a bowl, it would then be self-sufficient.

Bats like to live in warm areas. Young bats are kept in an incubator with a reptile fogger attached. This way, the environment is kept warm and humid. As the bats become older they are moved to a reptarium outside of the incubator. The reptarium is lined with non-knitted cloth for the bats to hang from.

When bats are deemed healthy enough to be released, they are test flown. This takes place in the enclosed hallway of the aviary. The bat hangs from a cloth; we then gently flick to help launch it into the air. If the bat is able to fly the length of the hallway with good form, it is ready to be released. [We are also fortunate to work with a Virginia permitted rehabilitator who specializes in bat care]

Bats are the only mammals that can truly fly. There are nearly 1,300 species of bats, which makes them 20% of all mammalian species. Bats play key roles in numerous ecosystems. Many bat species eat about half of their body weight in insects each night. If there is a decrease in the population of bats, there will be a significant increase in the population of insects which will cause an increase in crop destruction.

Many species of bats are in danger of extinction. One of the main reasons is white nose syndrome, a fungal disease. Since the average bat produces only one pup a year, it is even more urgent that we try to help bats any way that we can. One way  is to construct homes for bats. In addition, if one is found in your house, exclude or remove it safely. If you see a bat out during the winter when they should be hibernating (a potential sign of white nose syndrome) contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in your area.

-- Kristina
WCV Class of 2014

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