Luckily, most of our 60 wintering residents were uninjured, so were placed, by groups of 10, in large, separate male and female netted and heated dog carriers; here they roosted "naturally" in small, padded sleeping bag pouches, behind "curtains," or under "blankies," feasting on juicy mealworms and vitamin enriched water. When the warm Spring came alive with insects, their flying ability was tested in our new 35'x10'x10' flight pen that Bob constructed in the barn during two freezing winter seasons. Amazingly, all of the uninjured bats performed well, spinning, looping, and gliding in acrobatic circles around Bob and the in-pen obstacles he had created for their aerial examination. They then were successfully released.
But, DARN, before spring came our pregnant females had already begun popping tiny, fur less twins. So, one tent became a nursery colony. The moms were amazing, nursing their young in tight, warm, protective piles of adults and babies, automatically progressing to feeding their young overly-masticated, almost liquefied mealworms. Then, after offering only roughly chewed pieces to their furry, exploratory, growing babies, the mothers finally taught their 4-week, almost adult offspring to eat whole worms. We watched this fascinating adaptive progression in awe. We only had to provide the worms; the teaching and feeding process was completed by the bats. After the mothers completed an extraordinary aerial training program for their offspring in the flight pen, calling and encouraging their nervous balking babies to fly to them in ever increasing distances, we were able to release the entire captive nursery colony near our barn's wild nursery.
This summer we also received 20 Big Brown orphans, requiring a mass assembly feeding line of formula 4-5 times per day! Amazingly, this year they not only survived our captive care, but thanks to our new flight pen, they could copy and learn their aerial skills from the adult females, who surprisingly allowed these orphans to fly with their own offspring.
For optimum success, these young, parentless bats were released near their original colonies. From our small group of injured residents, we were able to exercise and release this year only those with disabling sprains, as well as Eve (who came to us the night before Christmas) with a nickel-sized hole in her wing that finally healed by late summer. The others, with injuries and breaks too severe for successful release, remain with us today, living in smaller, cozier tents. Their personalities are so different, and can change daily from "Grouchy City" to "Wappes actually smiled at me today!" Petey, a sweet female with a crushed ankle, and thus a "useless" foot, has learned to position that leg so that those uncontrollable claws stick securely into the netting. She has learned to move around the cage, and anchors those claws with enough stability to groom herself to velvet! She waits each night at the door of her tent for a cuddle from Bob. The injured males are a little more forward. Big Brown Wappes greets Bob with a loud, teethy chatter, only a jealous attempt for recognition (he gets a rub), since he knows that Larry, his tiny, cute Little Brown tent-mate, in competition, will always stick his unresistably friendly face from behind the curtain for his nightly mealworm treat.
Then there are our three flavors of non-releasable orphans, - Hoary, Red, and Brown! Recent observations have shown that those captive orphans, exhibiting problems that prevent them from flying free, will often die within 2-3 years of age. In mid-November, we, too, experienced this situation, as Sloth, our beautiful, deeply furred, gray and beige hoary orphan from last summer, unexpectedly and suddenly died from congestive heart failure as Bob was giving him his nightly cuddle! We miss our gentle giant, who never flew on his own. But how he LOVED to be hand flown! Lying prone in Bob's hand, held securely with thumb on his shoulders, Sloth flapped hard and PEED hard as Bob raced around the front yard, or in the house, creating an exhilarating air current for this enraptured "flyer." The harder Bob ran, the harder Sloth flapped - and peed (that's what Hoaries do in the wild), watering our grass, Bob's hand, clothes, and sometimes our floor!! We will always remember Sloth's toothy grin as he happily whizzed with Bob around our country property! Abby, a tiny Red Bat, an orphan from late this summer, who LOVES to fly (unfortunately, a flight not strong enough for release), tragically and irreparably injured one of her fingers while persistently performing some aerial maneuvers inside her tent. So now a permanent resident, she has inherited Sloth's legacy, joyfully flapping around the yard as Bob still races in circles with winged - and wet - hand outstretched. The neighbors will get no relief from this over-the-line craziness!
And finally, there is Mon. Our brown "temporary" educational purring orphan from last summer also refused to fly this spring. In spite of all the tricks we tried, he simply looked up at us with his Big Brown eyes, wiggling his cute nose, and busily purred his way into our hearts. A source finally recommended a pull eyed racer toy of the '80's that ran down a string; her hard-to-fly bats apparently loved the rush of air as they rode this gizmo, happily flapping their wings in grateful independence of human touch. Since such a toy could not be located, Bob fashioned a simple, pull eyed platform of his own that slid down a string with enough stability for a passenger. Holding the toy and string high at one end of the flight pen, Bob put our furry non-flier on the narrow racer. As Mon gazed in horror into space at the floor far below, he immediately pulled wings, legs, and tail under his body, flattening his ears against a lowered head. And as he sped down the string toward the lowered end held by Ann, Mon became a streamlined LUGE Olympian with NO wings out, actually with nothing coming out of his flattened, straight body - except terrified, panicked PEE! Reaching Ann, and safety, Mon scurried off the pee-soaked racer, dashed up Ann's arm, and launched himself off her shoulder, FLYING the entire 35-foot length of the pen! The rest of the summer Mon flew in loops and circles, enjoying his aerial abilities, even catching bugs from our in-pen black light. In August, when we thought he was ready, he was released, but several days later he returned to the top of the flight pen, trembling, thinner, and dehydrated. Once again safely in Bob's hands, Mon started purring, and hasn't stopped since! So Mon is now a permanent ambassador, already again delighting his audiences, either by close encounters or via closed circuit TV. Also with Ann's relatives from the East Coast coming for a short summer visit and enjoying their interactions with our unreleasable crew, perhaps Bob and our furry residents are even spreading the lore of bats beyond Indiana.