Conserve Wildlife Blog

Red Bat Surprise

December 19th, 2011


by MacKenzie Hall, Biologist

An eastern red bat found on the roadside. Photo by Gretchen Fowles

I’m starting to see that red bats are rule-breakers.  They’re considered forest bats but are happy almost anywhere there are trees, making them common and widespread across North America.  Unlike most other NJ bats, they don’t summer in attics or barns or under bark; rather they hang in the tree canopy at the mercy of wind, rain, heat, and cold.  They start flying earlier in the evening than other bats, and their females have more young (litters of 3 are common while litters of 5 are not unheard of…most other NJ bats give birth to just one pup per year).

But an unexpected winter sighting makes me awe even more at this colorful little creature.  On December 2nd, I was out on a county road in Byram (Sussex) with fellow biologists to plan a culvert project for amphibians.  It was a chilly morning – about 45 degrees at 10:00 am – cold enough that I wished I hadn’t left my hat in the car but not quite cold enough to go back for it.  On the road shoulder, on its belly, was a red bat.  Huh!  Red bats are migratory and most head south for the winter.  Sometimes they stay as far north as coastal NY and NJ, but a sighting this far inland was surprising. 

A closer look at the red bat. Photo by MacKenzie Hall

I gave the bat a little touch to see if it would respond.  It didn’t, so I carefully picked it up (trained professional…don’t try this at home!).  From the proper part of the anatomy I could see this bat was a male.  He was soft and malleable.  His eyes and mouth were frozen open with a little sand in them, so we knew the little guy was gone.  I put him in the pocket of my fleece for a little while, hoping anyway that he would warm up and start squirming around.  (No such luck.)

The obvious clues suggest he was struck by a car in the early morning; a different kind of traffic victim than the ones we were there to discuss.  But this was an interesting anecdote about the red bat’s cold-hardiness.  The previous evening couldn’t have been warmer than 50F or so, and the night had dipped below 40F.  Yet this little bat had been active – either taking advantage of a few flying insects or moving down from the tree canopy to the forest floor, where he could stay warmer wrapped in his furry tail pouch beneath the leaves.

I’ll keep a record of this unexpected sighting.  Feel free to share your own!

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