If variety is the spice of life, at Peace River Wildlife Center things can get downright hot. One of the best things about working at a wildlife rehabilitation facility is the number of different species that can be seen in a single day. One of the most challenging things about working there is that very same thing.
It can honestly get a little tedious feeding baby mockingbirds every 20 minutes all day long—hearing nothing but that incessant squawking from the first cage as soon as you finish feeding the last. But throw in some cheeping cardinals, some peeping grackles and the twittering of chimney swifts and it is no longer boring. Maddening, certainly. Deafening—you wish!
The care of some species is more routine than others. With certain birds and mammals the biggest difficulty is keeping up with all of them. We get a lot of baby opossums, raccoons, mockingbirds and doves. They are relatively easy to take care of; they just take a lot of time, energy and resources. Other species that we do not necessarily see as often can be more challenging.
Every year we get a few baby bats. Within the rehabilitation community, bats are notoriously difficult to raise. They have unique and specific requirements for nutrition as well as habitat. They must be maintained at a high temperature and humidity. They have to be kept clean and dry. Our lead rehabber, Cara Brown, has been doing a lot of research on her own and has finally succeeded in improving the outcome for these frustrating fliers. She has had a pair of northern yellow bats for a month now and they are getting close to release.
Northern yellow bats are one of the largest species of bats we see in Florida, with a body length of 2.8” and a wing span of 15”. All of our bats in this state are insectivores; eating moths, beetles, mosquitoes and other flying insects. Other bat species around the world eat fish, fruit, pollen, or even blood. Yes, vampire bats are not just a figment of Bram Stoker’s imagination, although he did take certain liberties. Vampire bats scratch the skin of cows and other animals and lap the blood droplets. They do not go for the jugular. No bat species attacks people. And they are far more intelligent than the characters in a Stephenie Meyer novel.
Yellow bats are commonly found in Spanish moss on oaks and under dead fronds on palm trees. They live in wooded areas near a lake or stream because that is where the most insects are found. While most bats tend to be more solitary, yellow bats can be found in large groups, especially during breeding season when many pregnant and lactating mothers can form a maternity colony.
Mating occurs during the autumn, but fertilization is delayed until spring. Although the initial pregnancy may have included three to four embryos, a litter consists of one or two pups, most of which are born in late May and early June. Mothers will leave their babies clinging to Spanish moss in the evening when they go out to feed. If disturbed during the day, they will carry their babies with them to a safer location. The young start flying by July and feed in groups with the females, while the males feed alone.
Bats, like any mammal, are considered a rabies vector species. That means they can get rabies, although it very rarely happens. If you find a bat you suspect may be ill, injured or orphaned, it is vital that you do not touch it with your bare hands. Using a cloth or paper towel or gloves, scoop the bat into a container or box with air holes. Leave the towel in the box for the animal to cling to and hide in. And place it in a warm, dark, quiet location until it can be transported to a rehabber or veterinarian. Only rabies vaccinated professionals should handle bats. If a bat has touched or even potentially touched the skin of a person, the bat must be euthanized and tested for rabies. The only test is to examine a section of the brain under a microscope.
If a bat has chased an insect into a house or finds itself in a location where it cannot grasp onto something, it will slide down to the ground. Many bats cannot take off from the ground. It must climb up a tree or other nearby object and drop down to start flying. If you find a healthy-looking bat on the ground and want to help it, simply place it on or near a tree (using a cloth or glove) and leave it in a shady area. It may have just been exhausted from its night time antics and will be fine following some rest.
There are over 1,200 species of bats worldwide. That is almost 25% of all mammal species. Some bats can live up to 20-30 years—amazing for such a small mammal. Bats are a fascinating and often misunderstood group of animals. We consider ourselves lucky at PRWC to be able to help this delicate species. We embrace the chance to grow and learn more about them as we care for them. And we hope to help educate other people to appreciate these inappropriately vilified animals.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM