23 October 2022

Thrush at Bat

’Tis the season of the witch, the jack-o-lantern, the sugar skull, and unseen things that go bump in the night.

In near darkness of the wee hours, friend Thrush stumbled into his bathroom. In the sink sat a tree frog, a small amphibian that clings to glass doors and snarfs mosquitoes. Yay, tree frogs. Thrush didn’t want it to dehydrate but, half-awake, he didn’t want to deal with it at that hour. He dribbled water over it and stumbled back to bed in the dark.

He rose early before dawn and found the creature still in the sink, still in near darkness. Thrush wasn’t wearing his glasses, so he dribbled more water on it.

It was game day, Penn State versus Auburn. Thrush forgot about wildlife in the bath until mid-afternoon when he told me, hoping I’d rescue it. That’s me, Mr Neighborhood Wildlife Rescue.

There in the sink huddled a small dark lump. I didn’t have glasses on either, but I’d never seen a black tree frog. Suspicious, I pulled on gloves and scooped the tiny critter into a paper napkin. What the hell?

It had a stick-like projection… two, in fact… and a small tail. Frogs lose their tails when they’re young. And the little thing was shivering.

Halloween season– I found myself face-to-face with a bat.

a very wet bat a very wet bat
a very wet bat
shivering, can't open eyes
a very wet bat a very wet bat
stick-like part is a folded wing
struggling to open its eyes

Most bats in North America are small, the majority barely two inches. As a kid tramping through our woods, I encountered one that looked like a tan cocoon clinging to a branch of a bush. I imagined it emitting inaudible little zzzs as it napped. Some varieties of bats like caves, some trees, and others prefer man-made structures– attics and belfries.

Florida has thirteen flavors of bats. This little guy was probably its most common, the Mexican (or Brazilian) free-tail bat. He wasn’t at all aggressive or even defensive. He lay in my hand resting and quietly shivering. I took him outside in the sun. Thrush grabbed his camera.

The majority of bats are insectivorous. Like dolphins, they use echolocation to find prey. Bats eliminate tons of mosquitoes, flies, and other bugs each season. That’s tons literally. The largest are fruit bats, not carnivorous at all.

The ‘free-tail’ part of my little bat means it has more than a stub that’s not part of its wing. This bat can use a couple of Halloween tricks.

For one thing, the Mexican free-tail bat can jam ultrasonic signals of other bat species. They let a cousin find an insect, blast its echolocation frequency and swoop in for a snack.

The Mexican free-tail bat is also the fastest mammal in the world. It can clock 100mph (161kmph) on straight and level flight. Little else can come close.

As I held the tiny bat in the sun, it stretched one thinner-than-paper wing, tucked it in and stretched the other. They were nearly transparent.

Moments later, he stretched both and paused. The wingspread of this tiny thing astonished me, 10-12 inches (25-30cm) on a body hardly two inches long (5cm).

It knew when it had dried sufficiently to fly. It lifted off my palm, those impossibly tissue-thin wings not so much flapping as sailing. Within a moment, it shot amid the plants that line the canal and was gone. Gone like ghosts of Halloween.

May you and your bats stay safe this holiday.


  1. Nice you were able to dry and release it!

    1. Thanks, Janice. Often animals understand when a person tries to help. Perhaps this little fellow did too.

  2. Well done! With an ending appropriate for the season!

    1. Thanks, Bob. He may have a story to tell when he finds his way home. Happy halloween.

  3. Where I live, we have millions of free-tail bats. They are a sight to behold when they fly out at dusk. However, when one shows up at a school or inside a store, the bat is swiftly removed and all kinds of alarms go up and warnings about public safety are issued. Why? Because bats can carry rabies. We have signs posted near the major colonies advising people never to touch a bat on the ground. Coming in contact with a bat that then escapes (and isn't tested) is enough to require a kid to get treated for rabies. Good thing you wore gloves.

  4. What a great story! Bats are wonderful creatures, who, like possums, take care of impressive numbers of insects most of us don't want around. Huzzah for bats!


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