Garden Diary - March 2009

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Friday, 27 March 2009
Beautiful Bats

This is Shirley Martina. She's a big brown bat who fell out of Shirley's attic on Martin Luther King day. and is spending the winter with Pat, being fed nice treats of mushed up meal worms enriched with baby food & vitamins. Yummy, if you're a bat.

"I have a hoary bat in my care." said Pat. "They're really the most beautiful bats. She came in with a bone bruise. I'll be caring for her for another 6 weeks or so. If you have the time to come visit I think you'd really like to see her." I'd had a wonderful time last July 2008 (scroll down to 2 July to read Bat Pups) and thought this sounded like an excellent idea.

She reminds me of a chinchilla, soft and silver. Hoary bats, Lasiurus cinereus, have thick fur, broadly tipped with silvery-white, especially on the chest and back.

Hoary bats are a forest species, solitary, and typically roosting under clusters of leaves in spring, summer and fall. It is poorly known what they do in winter. Maybe they roost in hollow trees and abandoned buildings or perhaps they migrate southward in fall.

UPDATE 8 April: Pat's on her soap box for bats, and with compelling reason. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Game Commission recently issued an Order to Pennsylvania wildlife rehabilitators titled "White Nose Syndrome Response Bat Rehabilitation Ban." This ban is in response to White Nose Syndrome, a poorly understood malady associated with the deaths of hundreds of thousands of bats in the Northeast, and perhaps the greatest threat to North American wild bat populations in recorded history. This ban cites the state's focus on surveillance and containment of White Nose Syndrome, and prohibits the rehabilitation of bats within any county in PA for the remainder of 2009. Further, wildlife rehabilitators will not be permitted to accept any cave or tree bat until further notice and no bats of any species are allowed to be released into the environment. Additionally, this ban calls for the euthanization of all incoming bats, regardless of species or age class, and the subsequent submission of deceased specimens to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Young hoary bats are born in May-June, following a (probably) 8-month gestation period. So this girl is less than a year old. A family noticed her clinging to their house foundation, not where one would expect to find a bat. When she was still there a week later, they figured something was not right and called for help. When Pat got her (passed on from the first responder) she was underweight and dehydrated, weighing a pitiful 18 grams. Under Pat's good care she now weighs 32 grams. Maximum should be no more than 35 grams or she'll be to heavy for the necessary acrobatic flight chasing insects.

Wing membranes are mostly black, but contrast with the wing bones russet color, resulting in a beautiful pattern to the spread wing.

No one pays rehabilitation caregivers for their work. They expend their time, pay out for food, supplies, equipment. Why? Out of admiration and enthusiasm for the creatures which they care for and about. With warmer weather, this hoary bat will be released. She'll likely breed, and next year have a pair of pups, maybe only one. The big brown bat, Shirley Martina, will also be set free. That's Pat's goal, to heal, and set free.

Does the idea that these two bats should have been killed offend you as much as it does me?

Of the nine states confirming the presence of White Nose Syndrome, Pennsylvania is the only state to mandate an order to kill all bats coming into rehabilitation. White Nose Syndrome is known to affect only five of the nine bat species located in Pennsylvania. For their size, bats are the slowest reproducing animal on earth. The indiscriminate killing of tree bats, orphaned young, and species never known to contract White Nose Syndrome will only expand population losses at a time when the conservation of all bats is absolutely critical.

The Indiana bat, a federally endangered bat that also resides in Pennsylvania is in direct peril because of this ban. Furthermore, this ban is in direct opposition to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service's recently published document entitled: Protocol for Wildlife Rehabilitator Response to White Nose Syndrome Affected Bats in the Northeastern United States. You can read this document yourself on the Bat World web site.

This callous and misguided attitude has upset people both within and outside of Pennsylvania, not just those involved with bats but also others who disagree with a "kill them all and then sort them out" philosophy. There's a petition, with a cut-off sign-on date of April 30, 2009. Write to Laura Flandreau Use "Bat Petition" as the message line. Put your name, profession/group, state of residency, and email or telephone in the body of the e-mail. Laura adds the new respondents to the petition at day's end. Perhaps it will make a difference. Even if it does not, please stand up and be counted for these little night flyers. Remember that the cut-off date is April 30, 2009.

UPDATE, 15 June, and it's sad

In mid-June I got an e-mail from Pat. She'd told me, a week earlier, that the hoary bat had had a pup. Exciting news, and I was planning to visit and photograph. And then this very sad news:

" The hoary bat died, suddenly and unexpectedly, yesterday at noon. Her pup died in my hands shortly thereafter. The hoary is prepped for necropsy and immersed in formalin, waiting to go to a vet in Florida who specializes in bats.

Pat contacted Amanda Lollar (the bat rehab goddess) who replied that any foliage bats she's had that have died, have done so suddenly and unexpectedly. She's sent these bats for necropsy with no noteworthy findings, so Pat's not too hopeful that she'll learn something from this.

Here's Amanda's comment to Pat: "I'm really sorry to hear about your hoary bat. To be honest, it happens A LOT to foliage roosting bats. I have not had one yet that didn't go suddenly and unexpectedly. It's like they have an 'off' switch and just decide to flip it for no reason. Not much of an answer, I know. Please let me know what Debbie Cottrell says (so far we've found nothing -not even the switch)."

This is so sad. Four months of care, this beautiful bat apparently doing well, gaining weight, successful pregnancy and birth - and then this. At least she was cared for, admired, appreciated. The hoary bat did not end her days starving, clinging to a house foundation, perhaps afraid. Pat wrote that, "I have demanding little pups - two big browns and a little brown, which keep me busy enough so that I don't get into a total funk. The hoary was with me for almost four months to the day, and everything was going well. I'm stumped, and saddened and just feeling blue right now."

Cannot do better that our best. It is always those of us who are left behind that are saddened. For cats and dogs there is the passage over the Rainbow Bridge. I'm sure there is a Moon Bridge, over which the hoary bat and her pup have crossed.

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