I’ve seen bats on Dewees fairly often in early spring, and occasionally in summer. Since it’s National Bat Week (who knew?!) I thought I would share a story of a lovely encounter with a tree bat in June. I was headed to the beach for a turtle walk slightly before sunrise through the maritime forest, and I was following what I thought was a pale winged warbler/wren through the rather dark forest, when suddenly it seemed like a pine cone fell in front of me, and a small chip broke off and fell slightly further away.
Something seemed weird, so I parked the golf cart and walked up to find a small bat with dark reddish brown wings spread out along the sandy path. The tiny chip turned out to be a baby bat about a foot away, and the mother flew off when I got close, so I retreated about 50 feet to see what would happen. I got back in the golf cart because for some reason the birds are happier when I am not on foot, so I figured that might apply to bats.
It was hard to see in the pre-dawn gloom, but eventually the mother returned and covered the baby and froze on the ground.
I went closer to look and could see the small arm of the baby reaching around the mother’s neck, like a hug, and as I went for the camera she seemed to tuck it underneath and flew off with the baby.
You can just barely see the baby on the right side of the photo above.
I was left with a bunch of questions: What species are possible? Where do they nest/roost? What would make a bat drop a baby? Is that some ecosystem thing to worry about? I assumed that intervention would make things worse– but should I have done anything differently?
I emailed my South Carolina Master Naturalist Instructor and guru, Keith McCullough, and he said he’d research it and get back to me. He reached out to a grad student at Auburn who had been doing bat research at Caw Caw County Park, and this is what she said:
The bat in the pictures is either an Eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis) or a Seminole bat (Lasiurus seminolus). It’s kind of difficult to tell from the colors in the picture, but it looks more like a Seminole based on the mahogany colored fur.
Baby bats can be born at up to 40% of the female’s body weight (!) and only increase in weight as they grow. Most tree bats (what reds and Seminoles are called) forage with their babies clinging on to them. It is not uncommon for the baby to fall off the mother while she is flying and sometimes people assume they’re rabid and kill them. Finding a bat like this is nothing to worry about. It is possible that the baby was falling off the mom and the mom was trying to catch it. It is also possible that something entirely different was happening. I’ve heard of bats occasionally falling out of trees but I’ve never seen one do it.
Lasiurine bats are some of my favorites and are absolutely gorgeous! These bats tend to roost in foliage or under exfoliating tree bark. Females can have 1-4 pups, but having only one or two is more common.
I was relieved that there was nothing ecologically wrong going on, and also that I had been right to back off and not intervene. I also agree with her that tree bats are certainly are beautiful bats, and I hope to find them again in the maritime forest. I drove that road most of the summer before dawn, but didn’t find them again. I did do a little research on Seminole Bats, part of the family of tree bats, and this is what I found:
- The IUCN Red List has them listed as a species of least concern.
- They are solitary, but sometimes nest near each other in clumps of spanish moss or pine trees.
- They like to roost in tall trees at the edges of open areas with clear flight paths.
- They eat at dusk, while flying, and they eat a wide variety of insects.
- They are also known as a mahogany bat, for the colors of their wings.
- They locate prey using echolocation, which has been recorded and amplified for human hearing here.
- Blue Jays might feed on baby bats left behind when the parents forage.
I came away from the experience with a little awe– these amazing animals are right outside our door, feeding little ones and roosting in the trees, and we are mostly unaware of them. I felt fortunate for the magic of the encounter that let me glimpse a little of that hidden life.
The US Department of the Interior put out this interesting bat video in honor of bat week: