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A Day With The Insect Bats

Caring for microbats can be very, very different than caring for megabats. The latter can be small, but the former are tiny.  Further along that line, for the most part most of these are crevice dwelling bats as opposed to the foliage that fruit bats favor. Crevice dwelling bats know no claustrophobia.  In fact, they redefine agoraphobia.  When you consider this alongside their diminutive stature, you can see that things might get a little tricky.

The insect bats flight enclosure with the “cave” at one end.

As soon as you enter the insect bat enclosure, this is apparent.  It might seem as though the native guys – as nearly all of our insect bats are native to this area – are the unfavored stepchildren of Bat World.  This, however, isn’t true.  No toys hang from the ceiling, but its only because the insect bats would have to come out into the open for extended periods of time to play with them, and it’s just not in their nature to do that. The enclosures also smaller, but so are the bats, as well as the number of them that can actually utilize the flight space. Insect bats really only come to us as rescues in distress of one sort or another, and while nearly all of them are subsequently released after we tend to them, the only ones who stay are those too badly injured or otherwise weakened to return to the wild. As a result, the vast majority of our residents can’t fly at the level of a wild bat, and a great many of those can’t fly at all, so their enclosure is set up so that these bats can traverse its entirety without flapping one wing. More than one only have the one wing to flap as it is, so this is important.

Because of this accessibility, one thing is paramount: safety.  The absolute very first thing you must know is that these bats can be anywhere.  We’re dealing with highly intelligent animals that can squeeze – with a little difficulty, but they can –  through a half- inch wide gap. Not only that, but given their predilection for very enclosed spaces, they enjoy doing so. Tight space is their natural defense. Think of it like a spy choosing a seat at a restaurant so that his back is to the wall and he can see all the exits.  Even after he retires, he still chooses the seat at the back because its the only way he feels safe and comfortable.  Similarly, a crevice dwelling bat in an open space is invariably a nervous bat and will without fail seek any cover it can find as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

So, the routine: the first thing to do is to start the mealworm sorting process.  It’s important, as we hold the same standards for bat food as we do for our own.  We order tens of thousands of mealworms at a time, which come packed in grain from a local supplier. Mealworms are the larva of flour beetles. Invariably, a minority of the worms will die off.  All will shed their skin as they plump up, and some will even begin to pupate.

The bats don’t like to eat the pupae.  Would you? Thus, all this has to be winnowed from the good stuff.  But you’re in luck:  with a minute of preparation, the mealworms will do it for you. Just sift enough worms from the grain, then place them into the far end of a large bin. Place the smaller bin in the other end of the larger one, then put a big bright fluorescent light over the whole set-up.  Mealworms hate light; the smaller bin provides shade.  They’ll flock to that shade, leaving the detritus behind. Easy. 

Had you worked for a certain institute’s ill-fated assurance colony attempt (their name starts with Smiths- and ends in -onian), you’d have instead spent hours-long shifts plucking viable mealworms out, one-by-one-by -one, with tweezers even though you were trained by Bat World not to do this.  You’d also have been wearing a hazmat suit to work with the bats, which is a little like wearing ballistic body armor to a game of golf.

Bats being hand-fed in their “cave.” The “Luxury Suite” sits to the left of the caretaker and the bathut is on the right.

Once the worms are busily turning the concept of survival of the fittest on its head, it’s time to head into the enclosure.  Your work primarily concerns the cave, a cabinet designed especially for the bats as well as the caretaker who hand-feeds them.

The basics, as with all bats and all animals in general, are the same.  The water and food dishes are much smaller, but need cleaning and refilling as always.  The enclosure needs cleaning, although it’s a much easier job than picking/sweeping/mopping after the manically messy fruit bats.  Care needs to be taken to disturb the bats as little as possible while all this is done.

All these differences in the insect bats temperament and nature that I’ve pointed out ultimately culminate in the biggest difference between the fruit bat and insect bat routines:  the gathering and hand-feeding of those who can’t self-feed.  It can seem odd that they simply don’t know how to eat mealworms from a dish, but insect bats eat on the wing, snatching bugs out of the air with the help of echolocation so precise that radar systems around the world tremble with envy.  Going from that to a food dish is as easy for them as it is for you to learn how to eat your food only when someone throws it through the air at you.  When we get a young bat, there’s a very good chance that they can learn with a little time, but when an older bat comes to us, its more difficult.  Some older bats have worn teeth and must be hand-fed soft food for the remainder of their lives, so training isn’t even attempted.

The gathering of the bats coincides with a health check which is performed on every single bat once a day. The bats who need to be hand-fed are marked for easy identification via a green earlobe. The green color is a harmless non-toxic and non-permanent tattoo paste that’s simply smudged onto the ear.  Its humane and completely safe, but does need refreshing now and then.  All the bats inside the fabric roosting pouches are checked as well as the roosts along the wall of the enclosure, changing roosts out for fresh ones as needed. While performing the daily check, any bats that are to be hand-fed are gathered and placed into a small netted enclosure called a bathut. After the bats are fed they are placed the “Luxury Suite.”  The Luxury Suite is a larger, decked-out bathut that includes enrichment. The hand-fed bats will spend the day sleeping inside the luxury suite before being hand-fed again in the evening. After the evening hand-feeding, the bats are placed back into their normal roosting areas inside their cave. Often times if we are running late in the morning, some of the hand-fed bats actually load the selves into the bathut in anticipation of being fed.

As for the actual handling of a microbat, one simply lightly places their hand over the bat, gently contains the bats wings to protect its fingers from injury, grasps it just as gently and manipulates its thumbs and toes as needed to unpluck it from its roost.  It requires a light touch and a knowledge of the way a bats claws curve, and is one of the many reasons a volunteer has to spend a fair amount of time with us before they’re allowed into the insect enclosure.  Further, even volunteers who’ve handled bats before have to learn our way of handling them.  We’ve spoken out against inhumane handling practices before, and we can’t be sure what volunteers have been taught.

Syringes of soft food (blended mealworms and vitamins) are retrieved from the fridge and placed in hot-but-not-scalding water to heat it up for them, “bat nappies” (to gently wipe their faces as they are fed) are made from small sections of damp paper towels, and the feeding commences.  The bat rests in one hand, legs near the thumb and the fingers curled up around the bat without gripping it.  The thumb keeps the bat from wriggling backward out of your hand and the fingers give the bat a nice enclosed space to feel hidden and safe within.

Iris, and insect-eating bat (Brazilian free-tail) being hand-fed soft food. Her face is gently wiped with a soft cloth after she is full.

As for actually administering the food, one has to keep in mind that the syringes are longer than the bat itself and be aware of how much food is given at one time, how often, when the bat swallows, be careful to keep any from getting on the bats nostrils and a myriad other circumstances.  These tiny animals, if fed too quickly, can easily aspirate the food, which can lead to bacterial pneumonia and even death.  To avoid aspiration a seven-second rule is followed;  a tiny bit is given to the bats every seven seconds or so.  Some are curious about being held and will often stop to look at you as they’re eating, slowing down the count.  Others will actually chew on the syringe tip when they’re ready for another mouthful, and these can be fed slightly  faster while still being very careful to allow them to swallow before giving the next bite.

Miss Brown, the only big brown bat that requires hand-feeding, has a different process.  In her case, the food is injected from the syringe into a tiny dish from which she laps.  Another difference is that Miss Brown is a very mellow, cooperative bat.  She even tells us when shes finished by wiggling her little feet.

Oscar, the cave bat, waiting at the opening of his pouch in case anyone steps on his “lawn.”

Speaking of specific bats, and as a good way to close this long-winded glimpse into the insect bats lair, I feel like I should spotlight some of our individual insect bats, as they tend to get less attention than their more flamboyant fruit-eating cousins.  Some have their stories available on our website, but there are others, such as Oscar, the cave bat.  He, like Poppy, a flying fox bat in the fruit bat’s enclosure, is the only one of his kind in residence, but given his extremely territorial (grouchy) nature, we think he likes it that way.  Being territorial, he is in the same roosting pouch every day, and woe unto any other bat who gets too close.  In fact, he dislikes other bats roving around in general, and if there’s too much wandering going on, he’ll emerge from his pouch, yelling and chasing the errant bats not only away, but into another pouch nearby.  He doesn’t care which one, he just likes to have a clear idea of where the property lines are. If the cave were a neighborhood, he would be the little old man who yells at everyone who steps on his lawn.

Then we have Smiley.  That she is still with us is something that I feel we should be proud of, although she was rescued and rehabilitated long before I came to Bat World.  She was found at our wild sanctuary as a starving baby almost four years ago with a massive scabbed-over injury to the left side of her face; the injury was big enough that the left side of her face is as precise a location as can be given for it.  It was severe enough that she couldn’t nurse, so she was hand-fed from an eyedropper and treated against infection until she was able to heal and resume nursing.  The wound took her left eye and left half of her face badly disfigured, yet she is otherwise a healthy, happy and trusting bat. 

Smiley, rescued as an orphan with a severe wound to her face.


There’s also Goldilocks, who is ironically male, and an infamously fussy eater. Yes, he needs hand-feeding and it has to be just right.  There’s Keeper, an otherwise amiable bat who nonetheless chatters at you every single time he he’s picked up for his feeding.  Such vocalizations are usually a protest of annoyance in being disturbed from his incredibly busy schedule, but Keeper tends to go along with the flow regardless. We’re not sure what he’s saying but we know it’s him even before opening our hand to see whom it is that we have gathered.

Lastly, of course, there’s Ichabod.  He and I go way back. We first met on Halloween of last year in the warehouse I worked in; he had a wrist injury and was soldiering his way across our concrete floor looking for shelter.  I thought he was pretty tough when he started climbing our bay door with that swollen red wrist of his, but he went on to make me quit my job, move and start hanging around bats all day.  He is a bat to be reckoned with.

His wrist, once healed, wasn’t quite the same as it was before, and so he’s here for life.  Specifically, his wing is stuck a little splayed open.  It could be fixed with painful physical therapy – yes, there is physical therapy for bats – but it doesn’t seem to pose him any difficulty, nor would said therapy restore his ability to fly.  As he is by all indications a happy, healthy and sociable bat, we see no need to disrupt his life with a lot of pain and upset that won’t do much to improve the life that he’s already enjoying.

Ichabod, the free-tailed bat who stole author Mitch Gilley’s heart, prompting him to dedicate his life to bats.

All told, tending to the insect-eating bats is less physically demanding than the fruit bats, but requires so much patience and care that it can’t really be said to be easier.  And while they might be very reclusive, their social behaviors are a lot more observable, as they’re far more likely to just go about their business than fruit bats unless you’re directly interacting with them.  You see squabbles over territory, sudden convergences on the food dishes when fresh mealworms are offered, social gatherings, friendships forming and dissolving.  The more watchful bats will even give the others a chattering heads-up when they first spot you.  It doesn’t feel like a warning, as they don’t all hide any more than they usually do, but a simple relay of information to the colony. 

Honestly, they’re probably just calling out that it’s time to eat.

Speaking Out Against Inhumane Handling Techniques

By Mitch Gilley

As the infamous panda bat picture has been making the rounds again recently, we’ve felt compelled to speak out about the inhumane way that bats are often held for research photographs. We are speaking out because most people by and large aren’t familiar with bats in general, much less their facial expressions. Given that these pictures are bandied about so frequently in an admiring manner by people who admire bats, we simply want others to understand that these animals are not being held so much as forcibly restrained for the photo.

Two researchers inhumanely hold a bat up for the camera.

Of course, it may necessary to restrain the bat to an extent; a wild animal doesn’t understand why it is being restrained. They likely only see a large predator who is capturing them. So when I characterize the pictures in question as showing bats being forcibly restrained, I’m referring more to the equivalent of someone twisting your arms painfully behind your back rather than a pain-free method of confinement.

Another reason we feel compelled to address these pictures as they arise is to get across that there are humane ways to do all of this. These more violent methods – and they are violent and not unlike the dangerous joint locks taught in various forms of martial arts, as both serve the same purpose, being to restrain a subject with pain and threat of serious injury if they resist – are presumably used due to fear and expediency. The comparison is valid both due to the pain that’s obvious to those familiar with bat behavior as well as the common, inadvertent injuries that result from such methods.

Image compliments of J. Thurman.

It’s important to know that Bat World Sanctuary is not anti-research, in fact, we are supportive of non-invasive/nonlethal research projects that benefit bats, and we have participated in studies of this nature, one of the most prominent on bat vocalizations. What we are against is the inhumane treatment of bats, and in pointing this out it seems to us that our points are indisputable: there are humane ways to handle bats that keep them restrained and take photographs. In fact, the end result of photographing a bat held humanely is a nice photo of a bat that appears normal in expression, which is much more beneficial in promoting bat conservation as a whole. Photos that show bats being held wings outstretched and by their incredibly delicate finger tips, or with their elbows pinned toward their backs in dangerous and agonizing positions, does little to promote bat conservation. In fact, photos like this ultimately mar the reputation of the researcher involved because it appears to the public that the handler would rather inflict pain and injury simply to save a few moments of time and possibly avoid being bitten. And if these handlers are afraid of being bitten, then they should simply stop being cowards, get vaccinated properly and accept that handling wild animals carries a risk of being bitten.

That said, handling bats humanely actually minimizes the likelihood of being bitten. It works on one simple principle; if an animal doesn’t feel as if there’s a dire threat, it significantly decreases its propensity to bite you. And bats aren’t stupid – they know they’ve been captured by gigantic creatures. We tower over them with lights and make strange noises and poke and prod them, gently or otherwise…they know they’re outmatched. If they don’t think there’s an imminent threat that you’ll directly injure them, they won’t pick a futile fight.

 

Some hard core researchers might wrongly assume that we take a fluffy approach to bat handling and care. For someone with a surface familiarity with animal rehab, this may seem like a valid critique. However, the bats in our captive colonies are all there for one broad reason: they cannot be released. Whether they are permanently injured, orphaned, or were simply born into the pet trade, Bat World sanctuary is all they have. Camaraderie and trust and affection behooves everyone concerned. We want the bats in our care to not feel as if it’s a life or death struggle if we handle them during health checks; we want them to feel safe enough to go back to sleep if we accidentally wake them up as we go about our work.

But past the pragmatic aspects of it, our overriding concern is to provide a safe, rich environment for them to spend their lives. It’s a basic respect for life. That such a thing could be called fluffy should strike us all as very, very sad.

In closing, we simply consider that there is no reason for any researcher to inflict pain on any living thing. If pressed and not allowed to evade that basic question, even they couldn’t honestly disagree with this point. Science and humanity aren’t mutually exclusive. Researchers who opt to be inhumane out of expediency and an unwillingness to accept the risks of handling wild animals should be exposed for this practice. Our hope is that when exposed, they might put forth the extra effort to carry out their research with more respect for their subjects.

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Isis

It was a lonely, unimaginably long road that brought Isis, an Egyptian fruit bat to where she belonged all along. Where it begins is unclear; her previous “owners” (a well-known amusement park) had thought she was eight years old. Isis is actually eighteen, so there’s ten years missing from her history. It’s a shame that she only found sanctuary as an elderly bat with cataracts who can’t quite hang as well as she used to. Regardless, we are so happy that she finally found peace at Bat World Sanctuary.

Isis being removed from the shipping crate after arriving at Bat World.

Isis spent most of the eight years at the amusement park with her mate. They were the only two bats at the noisy theme park. The theme park was hoping that Isis and her mate would reproduce, but their living conditions wouldn’t allow any offspring to survive. Toward the end, Isis’ mate died, so Isis lived alone in a small glass cage for several months, gawked at by large groups of people seven days a week.

Thankfully, the theme park grew tired of caring for Isis and contacted Bat World Sanctuary. The day of her arrival found Isis scared, both of the shipping ordeal she’d just endured, the strange new place, and the strange new person picking her up. She was so afraid that she would not even hang onto our hand with her feet, but we were gentle and spoke in a soft voice, and Isis finally realized that she was safe. We can’t imagine what she must have felt to enter the flight cage for the first time, to see dozens of Egyptian fruit bats just like her, cuddling together and playing with toys, and eating their fill of nutritious food every night.

Baby Ice-Ice, resting on a warmed rolled up cloth. Click to enlarge.

Still, there was one more difficulty left for Isis to face. Soon after her arrival, Isis gave birth. Elderly Isis had apparently become pregnant before her mate died and she found herself in a new home with a newborn pup to take care of. Overwhelmed, Isis was unable to care for her baby and it fell to the padded floor of the flight cage. Her baby was found almost immediately, warmed, fed and placed into Bat World’s incubator for hand rearing.

Isis with her baby. Click to enlarge.

As a few more days passed, Isis finally realized she was “home.” She became familiar with her keepers and in doing so learned to lookforward to the melon treats that always came with soft voices. A short week after giving birth, we heard Isis calling for her baby. Hoping for the best but prepared to continue hand-raising her pup, we brought Isis the pup she was seeking and carefully placed it near her on the flight cage ceiling. Isis immediately went to her baby and encouraged it to climb onto her body. Her pup began nursing just a few minutes later.

Isis eating her favorite treat of honeydew melon.

Today Isis’ baby is a few months old and well in every possible sense.

As for Isis herself, she appears very happy despite her cataracts and her arthritis. She lives a quiet, peaceful existence with friends and family all her own, and she will never be alone again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Boo2

Boo2 showing off his sweet, goofy smile.

Boo2 is an Egyptian fruit bat who was born at Bat World Sanctuary after his mother and seven other bats were rescued by Bat World from the now closed Little River Zoo. They came from a horrible situation.

An individual who was hired to “liquidate” the zoo’s animals called us about placing the remaining 8 bats. Sadly, the others had been sold to the cruel exotic pet trade. This individual originally planned to keep the remaining 8 bats and breed them, selling the “stock.” Thankfully, we talked her out of it, and all eight bats made it safely to Bat World Sanctuary in Sept of 2011. Boo2’s mother was pregnant when she arrived and Boo2 was born a few months later.

Boo2 became best buddies with Peekaboo, an Egyptian fruit bat who was rescued from similar conditions in 2009. It was this friendship that earned him the name Boo2. Peekaboo and Boo2 love to spend time with each other and are never seen far apart.

Left: Boo2 waiting for another melon treat while Peekaboo finishes hers. Right: Peekaboo and Boo2 playing twinsies while enjoying a honeydew treat.

 

Boo2 inserting himself in front of a morning keeper in order to get another melon treat. An empty fruit kabob is hanging beside Boo2.

Boo2 has so much personality that we have nicknamed him the “cage clown.” He’s never seen without an endearing, goofy grin on his face. Twice daily, keepers conduct visual exams of the bats under the guise of doling out melon treats to any bat who will take one. Boo2 positions himself in front of the keeper in any way possible in order to receive treat after treat.

We are so grateful to have rescued Boo2 from the dire conditions to which he would have been born, and a situation from which he most likely would have perished. Thank you to all who adopt and support Boo2 so that he and his kind can live a protected, happy and enriched life at Bat World Sanctuary.


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Tinkerbell

Tinkerbell at intake, nursing from a foam tip

Tinkerbell, a Jamaican fruit bat, is a sweet natured and endearingly odd little bat. To know her, you’d never think that her coming into the world had been so heartbreakingly grim.

Her mother was one of the many unfortunate bats that had become ensnared in the exotic pet trade, where bats inevitably live short lives of loneliness and terror. Like so many others in her predicament, Tinkerbell’s mother languished in a captivity wholly unsuited for bats and eventually died giving birth to her daughter. When Tinkerbell arrived at Bat World Sanctuary, she was, as is sadly common for bat pups whose mothers have died in childbirth, still clinging to her mother’s body.

Tinkerbell drinking her milk

Thankfully, things took a turn for the better; her owner, likely looking for ways to care for a newborn bat, came across Bat World’s Facebook page and learned how hard a pet’s life is for bats. It was too late for Tinkerbell’s mother, but not Tinkerbell herself, and the owner delivered the newborn to Bat World Sanctuary and asked us to keep spreading the word about keeping bats as pets. Were it not for her owner’s kind heart and willingness to admit she’d been wrong, Tinkerbell likely wouldn’t have made it either.

Tinkerbell at two months old

Tinkerbell was hand-raised at Bat World and has grown into a healthy and slightly eccentric adulthood. For whatever reason, be it her traumatic entry into the world or simply her odd little personality, she insists on roosting and eating by herself in the “bat hut” that serves as the halfway house for new arrivals. The bat hut is meant as temporary security for orphaned bats who are learning to adapt to the flight cage, but Tinkerbell has made it her permanent home. It’s not that Tinkerbell fears the other bats; she plays and flies alongside them nightly, and even enjoys visitors that pass through her bat hut. Tinkerbell simply values her solitude.

Tinkerbell in her bat hut, eating a piece of honeydew melon

Since deciding to call the bat hut her permanent home, Tinkerbell now serves as a welcoming committee to newly arriving orphaned bats. She allows the youngsters to roost and cuddle with her inside the bat hut, and in doing so eases their transition to hubbub of the flight cage.

In the wild, Tinkerbell’s solitary nature would deny her the protection of numbers and could put her in danger, but here at Bat World she has a place all her own. And if she wants company, there are over a hundred of her best friends no more than a wing flap away. We may not know why she lacks some of the social impulses that are so strong within other bats, but one thing’s for sure, her days of suffering and loss are over.

Our Donor’s Rights

Bat World Sanctuary is committed to honoring the rights every donor by promising the following:

Every donor has the right:

  • To know how Bat World Sanctuary intends to use donations, and of our capacity to use donations effectively and for their intended purpose.
  • To know the identity of the individuals serving on the Bat World Board of Directors
  • The Mission of Bat World Sanctuary
  • Have access to Bat Worlds Sanctuary’s most recent financial statements
  • To receive an email or letter of gratitude acknowledging every donation
  • To receive, upon request, a receipt for their donation
  • To assurance that his or her personal information is confidential and will never be shared, traded or sold for spam or any other purpose whatsoever
  • To have the opportunity to have their names deleted from mailing lists
  • To feel free to ask questions at any time, and to receive a prompt and honest response

Angela Best

Angela Best was born in Tuscon, Arizona and lived there until she relocated to TX several years ago. Angela fell in love with bats in when she was in the 6th grade, after she was given a book called “The Bat in My Pocket; A Memorable Friendship” written by Bat World’s Founder Amanda Lollar. At the time, Angela never dreamed that one day she’d be volunteering at the very sanctuary where the book was written some 20 years ago.

Angela  grew up with horses and other animals, and currently has four dogs and two cats who were rescued from animal shelters. Angela supports C.A.R.E.as often as she can, and hopes to one day operate a no-kill shelter on the property she owns.

 

Angela, preparing goodies for the fruit bat’s treat cups




Mitch Gilley

Mitch Gilley has advocated for animal rights his entire life. He attended Weatherford College, and he is proud yet humbled to be Associate Writer for Bat World Sanctuary.  When not writing, he is a budding and eager cyclist, an inwardly focused yogi and a lover of nature and the outdoors.

Before volunteering for Bat World, Mitch Gilley worked for a large company in Mineral Wells, Texas. One day he encountered a wounded Mexican free tail bat (later named Ichabod) in the company warehouse. His wrist was broken, yet the little bat was still fighting to crawl to safety, and then climbing a bay door, all through what must have been excruciating pain. Mitch was struck by this so-called “mouse with wings,” so widely despised as vermin, exhibiting a strength of character that most humans can only aspire to.  It was an encounter that would come to completely alter the course of Mitch’s life every bit as much as Ichabod’s.

The little animal set off a sequence of events, Mitch’s blog post detailing Ichabod’s rescue, to volunteer writing for Bat World, to spending a couple weekends working at Bat World itself; meeting Peekaboo and reuniting with an Ichabod – now on the mend – that led to him actually quitting his company job to volunteer full time as a grant writer for Bat World Sanctuary. Working at Bat World was something he wanted to do since junior high school when he attended a bat presentation given by Amanda Lollar. Now he’s doing it, all thanks to Ichabod, who is himself spending his days at Bat World.

Given the roots of Bat World in his childhood and an injured bat catalyzing the process of Mitch’s life change (much like that of his new boss), Mitch finds himself reconsidering his previous opinions on things like fate, kismet, dharma and the like.

Perhaps Peekaboo had a little something to do with it…


Mitch, with Peekaboo showing him the ropes.

 

 

 

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