An Unexpected Visitor in My Classroom

With the school year finally winding down, May 23rd was a “review day” for the upcoming semester tests and exams; graduation is on Saturday, May 28th.  During the second class of the day, I (again) started going through things the students should know to be prepared for their second semester art test.

At one point, while talking about artist Claes Oldenburg, I happened to glance up, and then I stopped–mid-sentence–looking toward the ceiling.  One of my students followed my gaze, and then loudly asked, “WHAT IS THAT?!”

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It doesn’t take much to totally de-rail an end-of-year test review, and this little guy hanging above our heads accomplished that with ease.  The girl who asked the question was already out the door by the time I answered her question: “Um, it’s a bat.”

The students were (obviously) distracted by this unusual classroom visitor, and after quickly covering a few more key points in the review, I sent everyone to the library to use the rest of the period as a study hall.  Aside from their distraction, I was concerned that the bat might start flying around the room, which could put both the kids and it at risk.

To digress for a bit, I like bats.  Really.  I first started learning about them in 2005 when I found a baby bat in some bushes on the side of my house.  It was still alive, but very weak, and I was completely at a loss as to what to do with it.

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I contacted The Wildlife Center of Virginia, and they put me in touch with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in my area who specializes in bats.  Robin gave me some instructions over the phone, and then she came to my house that evening.  She said that I had a maternal colony of Big Brown bats living in the louvers of my attic (not IN my attic), and that the baby had fallen out of the louvers. She took it home to care for it until it was ready to be released.

In the years since then, I’ve had a number of baby bats fall from the louvers, and with Robin as backup (in addition to the classes I’ve taken through the Wildlife Center), I’m a pretty competent and safety-minded “rescuer” and “first-responder,” though I’m still not a permitted/licensed rehabber. My job is to keep a baby hydrated and/or fed, and to give the mother bat a chance to retrieve her baby by putting it on a piece of mesh that is raised up towards the louvers.

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If the mother doesn’t claim her baby after a night or two, then Robin steps in to care for it, releasing it when it is capable of being on its own.

During the Spring of 2012, I was involved in an unbelievable number of rescues, and I became increasingly concerned about the well-being of these little creatures which play such a vitally important role in our environment.

Between the loss of habitat and White Nose Syndrome, some areas in the northeastern United States have seen a decline in bat populations of approximately 80%. (http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/disease_information/white-nose_syndrome/)

I haven’t had a maternal colony of Big Brown bats here since 2012, and last week I checked with my neighbors across the street.  They haven’t had any at their house (roosting behind their chimney) for a few years, either….

Just last Friday, I asked Chris, one of our maintenance guys at school, if he had seen bats flying around the campus, because several years ago I was involved in a rescue there: http://art-rageous.net/BigBrownBat-Winter2011.html )

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Chris said that he’d seen a few flying–and that he’d safely removed a couple from one of the buildings on campus recently–and I told him about my interest in and concern for bats.  I told him to let me know if he ever found any he needed help with.

Well, as it turned out, Chris was the one who showed up this morning to help me with the bat in my classroom.  It was still hanging onto the wall when he arrived, and it was still there when he returned with a ladder.  (I didn’t want to use the flash, so I brightened this image in Photoshop.)

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It appeared to be an adult, and it didn’t move or make a sound until Chris gently pulled it from the wall, wrapping it in a heavy, folded-up shirt.

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Fully alert at this point, it squeaked and protested; scared out of its wits, but doing its very best to look fearsome.

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After I snapped these pictures, Chris placed the bat on a nearby tree and we both expected it to immediately fly away.  It didn’t.

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Realizing that it was probably dehydrated, I went back to the art room to get some water and a clean paintbrush.  Over the years, I’ve re-hydrated–and fed–a lot of baby bats by delivering liquids to them via a paintbrush:

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It was still on the tree when I got back with the water, but as I moved closer, it turned around, stretched its wings out, flapped a couple of times, and then flew off towards the woods.  Yay!

These days every little bat in every little colony is important, and I’m so glad that this one appeared to be okay.

The following article about Virginia’s bats was published in 2013, and things aren’t improving in the state or in the nation. The risk for extinction is real. 🙁

http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/article_890ae3b7-9956-5458-a054-2e35176136c5.html

 

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