Her membranous wing resembled a human hand as it curled protectively around her baby’s injured body. The Big Brown Bat’s body language sent a clear message: do not touch my pup. Ignoring her own vulnerability, the mother bat carefully draped her body with its long, silky chocolate-brown fur over her young one as they cowered together on the ground.
Unfortunately, domestic and feral cats on nightly prowls are usually the first to find lost baby wildlife. The baby bat or pup suffered puncture wounds from a neighbourhood cat before she was rescued from the feline’s jaw. Sometime in the dead of night, after she was carefully placed in a box, and neighbouring domestic cats were locked inside, the pup’s mother heard and responded to her unique distress signals. Unable to carry her baby back to the cave, attic or hollow where she had chosen to roost, the mother bat, like any good mother, stayed by her baby’s side to protect it from harm.
Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Centre received a call the following morning when the number of bats had doubled overnight. As bat pups are difficult to rehabilitate, Salthaven recommended both bats be brought to the Centre where mother bat wasted no time in asserting her motherly rights both vocally and aggressively. Volunteers listened to the mother’s demands and minimized the time the two were separated when administering antibiotics to the injured pup and during feedings. Mother bat seemed to appreciate the easy access to food on a regular basis.
It is not easy being a Big Brown Bat mother. They typically give birth to only one baby annually that will weigh approximately 20% of her weight at the time it enters the world, similar to a 45 kilogram (100 pound) woman giving birth to a 9 kilogram (20 pound) infant. Lactation is also extremely demanding on a bat’s energy reserves which means mother bats must consume more than the usual 1000 insects per night. This daunting task is easily achieved with the help of an invaluable tool called echolocation where high frequency sounds are bounced off prey giving precise directions to the next item on the night’s menu. Although their erratic flight in the night sky appears to be less efficient than that of most birds, their multi-jointed wings resembling a human hand actually allow for more efficient flight and complex flight maneuvers than those of our avian friends.
Mother bats must also try to protect their young from predators, such as cats. Unfortunately, they have no control over the dangers of wind farms where significant low pressure areas behind the rotating blades cause sudden expansion of a bat’s lungs potentially leading to death. When the baby reaches adulthood it will also face the threat of White-nose Syndrome (WNS), a fungus that grows on the ears, wings and muzzle of a bat during winter hibernation leading to dehydration and ultimately starvation.
The pup’s puncture wounds healed without complications and she nearly doubled in size during her 10 day stay at Salthaven, well on her way to her mother’s weight of 18 grams (0.6 ounces), or approximately the weight of three loonies. Both of the Big Brown Bats were moved to a larger enclosure when the pup’s mobility and flight muscle increased to help her strengthen her beautiful wings in preparation for hours of night flying. Mother and baby were released back into the wild where they could reunite with their colony and show their thanks to those who saved them by keeping insect populations under control.
Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Centres are located in Mount Brydges, Ontario, and Regina, Saskatchewan. For more information on Salthaven, visit www.salthaven.org and look for Salthaven on Facebook, YouTube and other social media sites. For help with an Ontario wildlife emergency, please call 519-264-2440.