Batty for Bats

We have literally gone batty at Peace River Wildlife Center.  And I mean that, well, literally.  Not like OMGSuzie’s recent comment on a Facebook post, “I just literally cried my eyes out!!!!”  Because if she really had just cried so hard she lost both eyes, I’m impressed by her typing ability.  I didn’t think I looked at my keyboard as I was typing until I wore the letters off of some of the keys.  Now I apparently can’t type anything with the letters A,S,E,R,T,H, or N in it.

I Googled the phenomenon.  Apparently the black keyboards on laptops are prone to this problem, unlike the black letters on the white keyboards common to PCs and Macs.  The white “ink” on the black keys is not as hearty and the oils on your fingers (especially if you are munching on potato chips while writing your articles for the Charlotte Sun!) dissolve the letters.  I don’t want to put Court Nederveld (the Charlotte Sun’s computer guru) out of a job, so I’ll leave the technical stuff to the experts.  And if he promises never to try to explain the anatomy of a bat, I will never again attempt to resolve any of my plethora of computer problems.

PRWC takes in injured and orphaned wildlife and we have noticed over the years that many of the species we see are cyclical.  Of course we expect to see many baby birds in the spring and a lot of baby mammals during the summer.  But we have also noticed some years we see a dramatic increase in the number of a specific type of animal.  Last year we were inundated by gopher tortoises.  The year before it was opossums.  This year we are seeing many more bats than usual.

Bats’ breeding habits are similar to other mammals.  They have their babies in the late spring or early summer months.  For some reason, this year PRWC is getting in an inordinate amount of displaced baby bats.  Hopefully it is a good sign that the population as a whole is rebounding.  Most Florida bats prefer to roost in mature or dead trees, under palm fronds, or in Spanish moss.  A lot of this prime bat real estate is constantly being cleared by homeowners obsessed with that cover photo shot for House Beautiful or due to homeowner’s associations’ unrealistic rules that are harmful to the natural flora and fauna.

Bats are a beneficial species.  All 13 species of bats found in Florida are insectivores and a single bat eats his own weight in insects every night.  That equates to 3,000 insects per bat every night!  If you find a bat on the ground, an adult should pick it up using thick leather gloves or a towel.  (Children should always be discouraged from handling wildlife for the safety of the child and the animal.)  Place it in a box with the towel and call your local wildlife rehabilitator for further instructions.  A tree dwelling bat that may have been blown out during a storm can often be placed back into the tree at dusk.  If there are any injuries, the bat needs to be examined and treated by a licensed rehabber.

The Brazilian free-tailed bat is the most common bat found in Florida.  It is a colonial nester, preferring to roost in man-made structures—under Spanish roof tiles, bridges, and bat houses.  It has one pup in early June.  The adult wingspan is approximately 11 inches and the body is about two inches long.

The evening bat is a colonial nester, roosting under loose bark.  It usually has two pups in April through May.  Its size is similar to the free-tailed bat.

The Seminole bat is a solitary nester that likes Spanish moss.  This female will have three to four pups in May through June.  Size is also similar to the free-tailed bat.

The Florida bonneted (previously called Wagner’s mastiff) bat is a rare find.  It is Florida’s largest bat with a 20 inch wingspan and a body length of four inches.  It is a colonial nester that has one pup in June through September, but may have more than one cycle each year.  Preferring tree cavities, a colony has been observed just south of Punta Gorda.

While bats can get rabies and need to be handled accordingly, it is actually a rare occurrence.  Studies show that less than one percent of bats contract rabies and they usually die within three to four days.  Any mammal could potentially have been exposed to rabies, so never handle any wild animal without using appropriate precautions.  Always keep your pets vaccinated in case they should be exposed to wildlife.  And wash your hands before using your computer or you could end up with black keys—which is a bad thing.  Not to be confused with Black Keys, which is a great band.  But I’m not trying to take TJ Koontz’ (Charlotte Sun’s reporter on all that is new on the music scene) job either, so I’ll just get back to what I do best—as soon as I figure out what that is.

by–  Robin Jenkins, DVM

Wagner's Mastiff (Bonneted) Bat
Wagner’s Mastiff (Bonneted) Bat
Baby Evening Bat
Baby Evening Bat