“Tis the Season”
by Rebecca Schumacher, Certified Master Naturalist, Indian Trail Chapter
There are certain aspects of nature that are associated with certain seasons. For example, snow in winter, baby animals and wild flowers in spring, and turning leaves in the fall. Largely we make these associations because this is the time when these occur most frequently in nature, and we are most likely to encounter them. A notable exception is that folks most commonly associate bats with Halloween; the truth is June is the month in which the average person is most likely to have a close encounter with a bat.
Bats are clean, gentle and intelligent, they are vital to the ecosystem, and they enhance our lives in many ways. Insect-eating bats are literal vacuum cleaners of the night skies, eating millions upon millions of harmful bugs like pests that destroy crops or insects that cause human disease, like mosquitos that can carry West Nile Virus.
Many types of bats are native to Ellis and surrounding counties, while some are just passing through, and some remain here year round. The important thing to know about bats in June, is that it is pup season! Some species of bat, like the famous Mexican Free-tailed bat, maintain maternity colonies and leave their babies in nurseries during nightly flights for food. Other less-known species of foliage roosting bats, like the Eastern Red Bat may bear up to 4 pups at once. You might be astounded to discover that the mother takes them with her on her nightly flights for food. Each of these pups can equal as much as 25% of the mother’s body weight! Imagine a mom carrying around four 10 year olds while she does her grocery shopping!
It’s also important to know that there is no species of bat in North America that can take flight from the ground, all bats native to this area must drop into flight, and they are helpless if stranded on the ground! Many things can ground a strong and healthy bat: storms, predators, an unexpected cold snap, or downed tree limbs. Bats carrying pups are at even greater risk, and in the month of June, licensed rehabilitators like me are kept busy caring for injured and orphaned bat pups and moms who have been a victim of any and all of these mishaps.
You can help too, by understanding that most grounded bats are not sick or injured. You can safely help them get on their way again. NEVER HANDLE A BAT BARE HANDED. First, line a ventilated shoe box with a t-shirt (not a towel please). Then use the lid to gently scoop the bat into the lined box (remember, it can’t jump at you or fly away!). Secure the lid with a rubber band and place the box in a shady area until one hour before dusk. Carefully lift the t-shirt from the box with the bat clinging to it, and hang it as high as you can from a tree limb or clothes line. Check the next morning, if the bat has not left please contact a rehabilitator through the Bat World International website. Please remember that rehabilitators are all volunteers and receive no compensation or financial support to assist them in doing what they do and most have full time jobs as well. Expect to at least meet a rehabber half way if they are not in your area.
Do you think nature should be part of our everyday life, not just somewhere to go on the weekends? You are invited to attend our free, open-to-the-public, monthly program on the fourth Monday of the month at 7 pm at the Red Oak Library, 200 Lakeview Pkwy, Red Oak, TX. For more information on the Indian Trail Master Naturalist Chapter, contact the Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Service at 972-825-5175 or visit our website: https://txmn.org/indiantrail/.