About 8pm on June 23, 2006, I received a call from Sue Craig that she had rescued a female Red Bat with three babies that had fallen to the ground. She explained that one of the neighborhood children had found the bat lying in the street. She was calling from Munster, Indiana, a suburb of Chicago, over 130 miles away. Since it was late and I had other young bats to care for we made arrangements to meet the next day somewhere between Munster and Ft Wayne. Since she is a Vet-Tech, I gave her information on how to care for the bats overnight. First, she would need to rehydrate the mother by giving a subcutaneous injection of Ringers Lactate as well as oral drinks of warm Gatorade and water. Next, she could offer strained baby food such as banana or apple and /or mealworms. Then she had to place the family in a cone of soft material hanging in a warm container. The next morning the family was doing well and I went off to meet Sue and the Red Bat family.
I arrived with my padded bat box and some Gatorade to hydrate her. Upon picking her up, I realized there would be no problems; she was gentle and trusting, unlike the description given to most wild mother red bats with young. I spoke with Sue and her mother the co-pilot about her evening with the bat. I asked her if she had a name for the bat; I always ask people to name their bats. She replied that since she was from Munster, the mother should be named Lilly Munster. Great! And then the three babies, 2 males and one female, would be named Hermann, Eddie and Marilyn.
When I arrived home, Ann had prepared viscera (squeezed out guts) from the mealworms, blended mealworm mix, strained baby food and milk replacement formula. There was no problem feeding Lilly. With her offspring firmly attached to her, I placed her head down in my left hand and started feeding her in stages. First water, then Gatorade, then milk replacer and then blended mealworms and viscera.
We fed her every four hours after this. After the second feeding, she allowed me to remove and examine Hermann and Eddie; Marilyn refused to let go of her mom! The babies each took milk replacer readily. After this at each feeding I would give the three babies milk replacer and a little blended mealworm mix. The Munsters were placed in a soft cloth cone inside a soft sided 25-gallon cage. The cage was heated to about 85 degrees.
Since this was our first experience with a mother Red Bat and young, we were a little unsure of what to do next. I made calls to Texas and southern Indiana, where they seem to have a lot of Red Bats. What we were doing all seemed correct. However, releasing the bats would require a little work. The bats would need to be placed in a soft sided cage, covered with leaves, hung about ten feet above the ground in a predator free wooded area. They should be released in the evening. The cage should be monitored the next morning to see if they all left, if they all stayed, or if mom abandoned one or more of the babies.
On the third day, I took Lilly out to the flight pen to insure that she could fly. Oh yes, she could fly! She zoomed back and forth and wasnít too concerned about the babies. Finally she tired and I caught her. She was purring happily and seemed to be excited about getting back to the babies. We repeated the flights for two more nights. In the meantime we were feeding every 4 hours (3am feedings are killers!) and the babies had almost doubled their arrival weight.
Since, release of the bats as soon as possible was imperative, we scouted daily for suitable habitat. Finally, we settled on a nature preserve that had little human traffic and probably few ďdomesticĒ predators. So on a Friday night after the gates were closed, we prepared the release cage. I had so well camouflaged it that Ann walked right by it at eye level. I mounted the ladder, hung the cage from a branch with a clear flyway and then installed the Munster family. We gave them our blessings and wished them well.
The next morning, I checked the release site. Lilly was gone but the 3 babies were still there. What to do? We left the babies there all day, intending to try one more night in case she returned. But at 9pm under the threat of severe thunderstorms, they had to come home!
And were they happy, not to see us, but after 24 hours to get a meal! So we continued the feedings every 4 hours for the next 2 days, then dropped the 3am feeding and advanced to 4 meals a day. Now we are finally down to 3 feedings per day. The second day back we introduced viscera and blended mealworm mix to the menu. At first, they barely touched the new foods, but after a week they heartily consumed the invertebrate delight and just barely drink the milk formula. Hermann has started to eat half worms, but Marilyn and Eddie just suck the viscera out of the skins! The 3 have become more mobile in their cage; each feeding time finds them positioned at the top of the cage so they may be extracted easily. They sleep together as a clump, both for warmth but also companionship. At each feeding they are placed on a warmed soft pad held at an angle. While waiting for food, their stomachs warm, nature takes over and they relieve themselves. Itís not pretty but it ensures that they ďgoĒ and that they and their cage stay cleaner. The 3 are bathed every two days. With their heads held upward, warm water is trickled down their body to wash away any urine, food or feces. (To prevent possible ear infections, the head is avoided, but cleaned later with the sponge end of an eye shadow applicator). The bats are dried with soft towels, followed by gentle blow drying and finished with a combing and brushing with an eyebrow brush. Our invalid female Red Bat from last year has taken an interest in the babies. She hangs on my shirt while I work with the kids. Some conversation passes between them, and even though I donít understand, none of it seems hostile. If I donít get her out of her cage when I work with the babies, she will flop around noisily in her cage until I retrieve her. I canít place the babies with her, as they are still at the nursing stage and would try to nurse from her. Baby bats have sharp teeth and could injure her. So now it is just a matter of time, care and patience. The babies have more than doubled in weight and are noticeably larger than when they arrived. They stretch their wings and flap. By mid August they will be ready for release, but will we?