Every year we rescue dozens of free-tail orphans (Tadarida brasiliensis) from our wild sanctuary in Mineral Wells, TX. Prior to their release back into the colony, the right ear of each orphan is tattooed with two to three very small dots. After all releases into our wild sanctuary, the building is checked daily for possible sightings. It’s very hard to spot one particular bat amongst the thousands roosting on the rafters. However, over the years we have been lucky enough to sight several orphans that were doing well after release.
In the summer of 2003 one of our orphans was released a bit later than normal. He was a large boy, an adequate flier, but not quite strong enough for the usual release time in August. One month later he was ready to go. He received a tattoo of three green dots (see photo) and was then released with with three adults into our wild sanctuary on September 17th.
On September 22nd we received a call from one of our local members who lives on the outskirts of Mineral Wells, about 8 miles from the wild sanctuary. She is an environmentally conscious individual who rescues various animals, including cows and horses, and has often described the swarms of bats that forage over her hay fields. She called us with concern for three bats that were hanging low on the side of her house, about two feet off the ground.
It was dawn when her ranch hand, Ermin, first saw them huddled together on the wall out in the open (a very unusual behavior for free-tailed bats). Within a few minutes two flew away, but one remained. Free-tailed bats have been observed providing “support” for their roostmates in captivity; from everything to having a toenail temporarily caught in roosting pouch fabric to giving birth. The two bats that flew away may have been providing support for the bat that stayed behind.
We were amazed to find that the remaining bat was the orphan we released five days earlier. He was hanging weakly from the side of the white brick home. Sadly, he was very thin. However, it was still good to know that instinct had kicked in and he was foraging with others over open fields. It was also good to find that some of the bats from our wild sanctuary forage in a relatively safe area, free of pesticides. It is unfortunate, however, that the orphan proved true the adage “only the strong survive.” He simply wasn’t one of the strong.
The minute we arrived back at Bat World the little bat knew where he was. He perked up considerably and couldn’t wait to jump into a soft roosting pouch. He was examined and hydrated, then fed a rich meal of blended insects. After his tiny belly was full he fell to sleep, cuddled up with some of his old roostmates that were still in rehab.
We are grateful knowing the little bat is safe and sound. He’s been named “Little E” after Ermine. His permanent home is now at Bat World. Little E is just not good at being a bat, but here, it doesn’t matter. He can fly safely within the confines of a flight cage every night, snuggle with roostmates every day, and eat food that is always catered.