A bat flying around your living room may look enormous, but eight of the nine species of bats native to Ohio weigh less than an ounce — and that's as adults. Because bats are so small, we receive calls all year about "baby bats," but you will not see an actual baby bat before late May or after mid-August. Most bat species form maternity colonies, which range from a few up to several hundred mother bats, in sheltered areas such as barns, attics, behind shutters, and under decks, awnings, and porch roofs. Often colonies are located literally inside a wall, between the exterior and interior surfaces. Some species form colonies in hollow trees or under the loose bark of trees. Two local species, Red Bats and Hoary Bats, are solitary, living alone and hanging from the leaves of trees, where the mom gives birth and raises her pups by herself, leaving them in the tree while she flies off to feed at night. All our local bats are born with their eyes closed, and most are born without fur. Most bats give birth to only one pup a year. Big Brown Bats, our most common species, bear twins, and Red Bats and Hoary Bats may bear up to four pups. Bat pups develop rapidly and begin to fly at about four weeks, but the moms continue to nurse their pups for a couple of weeks as they learn to hunt.
Bat pups usually remain in the roost until they are old enough to fly. We find pups outside for several reasons:
Mothers sometimes move pups to another roost, carrying their pups as they fly, and a pup might drop off.
A bat mom might be killed while she is out feeding at night, and if no other mom in the colony adopts the orphan, it may crawl out of the roost looking for its mom.
As pups grow older and more active, some pups might explore outside the roost and not be able to get back in.
If a pup has a disabling birth defect, the mom will simply stop feeding it. And a Big Brown Bat that can't catch enough insects to support both her pups will stop feeding one to give the remaining pup a better chance of survival.
What should you do when you find a pup outside the roost? Take pictures if you can, and as soon as possible, contact a rehab group for individual advice. Different species require different care.
Meanwhile, here are some general guidelines:
Do not handle any bat, even a tiny pup, with your bare hands. Even newborn pups have teeth and though they do not actually bite, they may attempt to nurse and can latch onto bare skin. Adult bats, of course, may bite in self-defense. f you need to handle a young pup, one that is still unfurred or lightly furred, put on a fabric glove and gently place your fingers around the pup. It will probably grasp your fingers with its wings and toes and you can transfer it to a container. A healthy pup clings to its mom, and will cling to your hand so tightly that you might have to carefully remove the glove and leave it with the pup.
Children should never, ever, EVER handle bats. If a child handles a bat the animal must be tested for rabies. We don't want adults touching bats either. Very few bats are rabid, but a bat on the ground, unless it's a pup, is more likely to be sick than a bat that can fly away.
Most lost or orphaned pups are found near or hanging from the wall of a building, beneath the entrance to the roost, which is usually high on the wall. Bats hang head down, so don't be alarmed by this. If the pup is lively and peeping, we try to reunite the pup with its mom by leaving the pup hanging outside on the wall just after sunset where the mom can hear it cry for her when she leaves the roost to feed. It is essential that the pup is placed as close as possible to the roost, right on the wall, not moved to a tree or to another side of the house or left "in the woods." The mom will pick it up and take it back to the roost, maybe on her way home after feeding.
If you find a pup hanging outside early in the day, or hanging in the sun, or where the sun will soon hit it, if you can reach it safely you should probably bring the pup in, or at least move it to a nearby safe place in the shade so it won't dehydrate and become sunburned. If it is late in the day, however, and the pup is not in the sun, it can probably be left where it is.
If you find a pup inside a building, such as in a basement, the roost is likely in the wall nearest to where you found it. Usually the best way to return these pups to the colony is to move them to the outer side of the same wall where they were found, the same way as if they had been found outside.
Red and Hoary Bat pups will usually be found under a tree and, if strong enough to be returned, should be placed back in the same tree.
Reuniting mom and pup often means leaving the pup outside all night. There is some risk to the pup, but if the attempt works, it has a much better chance of long-term survival than if we take it into rehab right away.
Before you attempt to reunite the pup with its mom, or until you can get it to a rehabber, pups can be housed for the day in a small plastic or cardboard container. A t-shirt or a linen dish towel — nothing frayed or with holes that the pup can get tangled in — can be hung over the side for the pup to hang on. Do not attempt to hydrate or feed or play with the pup. Cow's milk and many milk replacers are dangerous for bats, and they are easy to injure. Do not place the pup on heat. Keep it at room temperature and be sure it is safe from pets or children. If it seems active or mobile, be sure the container has a fitted cover, or place the container in a tub or sink where, if the pup escapes the box, it will still be contained. Unlike other baby mammals, bats tolerate being cool; it will actually help them conserve their resources. A damp towel covering the container will help keep the pup from becoming dehydrated.
If you have further questions on bats or need a local rehabilitator, please call:
Nature Nurses Wildlife