Bats are mammals, not rodents. They are more closely related to lemurs and apes than rats and mice. They've been around a long time, some fossils date back 50 million years. Bats have internal organs similar to humans, have fingers and toes, and nurse their undeveloped young. What makes them unique is their skin membrane that enables flight. Bats are the only flying mammals. "They are more like little furry flying persons, " said Walton. "They see us as big walking naked bats."
Most bats are farmers. Their job title depends on what's for dinner; Fruit Salad or Insect Crunch? Fruit bats eat decaying and overripe fruit, dropping seed and guano. Guano is some of the best fertilizer on the planet and chemicals it contains are used to clean up toxic spills. A fruit bat's ears are small. Some varieties have long noses and tongues to get to flower nectar, aiding in pollination. A fruit bat is a Propagation Engineer.
"Crunch!" If a bat has big ears, it's a hunter that eats insects. "Moth-munchers" are a farmer's best friend, protecting crops all over the world. Wise farmers place bat boxes around their fields and vineyards. Less pesticides means better quality food. In Texas and the southwestern states, all new bridges must be built bat colony friendly, providing new roosts underneath.
"Holy Mosquitoes, Batman!" Did you know a Little Brown Bat averages 1200 mosquitoes per hour? A large bat colony can wipe out millions in a season. Mosquitoes can carry diseases like West Nile virus and malaria. Bats eat ½ their body weight in bugs each night. Insect eating bats are Master Exterminators.
Bats live in maternal colonies where the women bring up the babies. With up to 100 animals per square foot, you would think a mother would have trouble locating her baby, but she has a unique clicking song that the baby answers.Once close, smell confirms the relationship.The babies often cling to their mother, protected under her wings.
In some species, it's the females that migrate north, some up to 300 miles or more. The fellows stay down south in dormitories. Birds and bats often migrate together, riding the same air currents.Bats are territorial. They return to the area they were born. Even rehabilitated and released bats will attempt to return to their home range.
Bob and Ann have cared for over 950 bats in their career. They have a room full of covered cages dedicated to their injured and displaced charges. Each patient begins with a weighing and a name like Kermit and Miss Piggy, twins Pete and Repete, Kat and baby Kitty-kat - named for her attacker. They are rehydrated, given a rabies injection, deloused, teeth checked and fed. If uninjured, they are kept isolated for one to two weeks until confirmed healthy and eating. As for Kat, her tattered wing was super-glued and she recovered.
"To the Bat Cave!" The patients are then placed in a communal enclosure. Bats prefer company and like covered spaces. They curl up together in tiny sleeping bags, or cuddle under Bob's shirt collar. He says hearing his heartbeat calms them. Rescued babies have no fur and must be kept in an incubator at 100 degrees. They are fed a milk mixture using an eye makeup applicator as a nipple. Toddlers are switched to blended mealworms. The final stage before release is a test flight in the flight cage.
"Holy Nightmare, Batman!" What about those vampire bats? They are extremely small, less than 2 ½ inches long. They have small teeth they use to nick their victim. The bat's saliva contains an anticoagulant that keeps the blood flowing, and they lick the seepage. Many artery-clogged humans have benefited from that life saving compound. It's not so scary when you realize the worst a vampire bat can do is nick and lick with a tiny tongue. Bats come out at night not because they fear daylight. They fear predators! They have excellent day and night vision and a special echolocation sense that helps them capture bugs at night. Bat echolocation was heavily studied for development of modern radar technology.
Sister Teresa Schleper shared stories of working in the kitchen for 19 years, and how once in a while they would get a bat inside. She would knock it down with a broom and throw the offending creature outside.
We now know the bat should be carefully removed to the outdoors without injury. They deserve our respect and appreciation for being fine farmers and unique mammals. The best way to get a bat out of the house is to open the doors and windows and let it find its own way out. If this doesn't work, wait until the bat lands, and place a small butter tub or box over it. Slide a thin piece of cardboard under the box and release it outside. A soft towel will work too. While your chances of winning the lottery are greater than your risk of getting rabies from a bat (1:200,000,000), ALWAYS WEAR GLOVES when handling.
Bat populations are declining from old and new dangers. Entire colonies have been decimated by white nose syndrome, a fungus that attacks hibernating bats. It represents the most serious threat to wildlife in a century, experts warned Congress. Habitat loss is also devastating. Even windmill technology poses a new threat as bats collide with the blades, unable to escape the currents. Protection of these mammals and their habitat will in turn provide many benefits to humans.