Bats in the Belfry (and Elsewhere)

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Being just a couple of days before Halloween, we thought this would be a good time to get to know a little more about that much-maligned symbol of the dark, the bat.

Our initial plan was to interview a few at their annual Bats are Misunderstood Mammals (BAMM) convention, but some of the members were afraid that outsiders couldn’t be trusted to not give away their location. Apparently our multi-species orientation was not enough reassurance.

So we had to speak with them via Skype (no picture). Here’s what we found out:

Cheeseland: So why all the secrecy? This is your big season.

BAAM: You have got to be kidding. We hate Halloween. All it does is popularize the stereotype about bats. We are not scary animals that swoop down in the night to scare people.


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CL: Umm. Actually we have seen some bats come down after us.

BAAM: Sorry, our bad. Some of you guys are lizards and birds, aren’t you?


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(uncomfortable silence)

CL: OK, enough of that. Tell us about your good deeds.

BAAM: Well, we eat lots and lots of insects. You guys don’t have insects on staff, do you?

CL: Let’s keep moving.

BAAM (nervously): It’s mainly mosquitoes, everyone hates mosquitoes don’t they?


BAAM: Nectar! We love nectar! We have a huge role in pollination. In fact, the majority of our species eats nectar and fruit.


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CL: Really? That’s very interesting. And where do you live?

BAAM (relaxing a little): Oh we live pretty much everywhere, except where it’s really cold. We like relatively enclosed spaces. Since we sleep during the day, we prefer to keep out of the sun.

CL: It seems like a lot of you can live in a small space.

BAAM: Actually, yes. Our bodies are quite small, and we wrap our wings tightly around us.


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CL: Does that cause any problems?

BAAM: It causes one of the huge misconceptions about bats. When it gets dark, we want to get outside to  eat. So we all try to rush through the same openings. Sometimes it looks like we’re coming out as a horde to cause trouble.

CL: And some bats probably have fly lower than others which is what looks like swooping.


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BAAM: Exactly!

CL: We’re out of time here. We’d like to thank you for sharing your time with us.

BAAM: Thank you for having us.

(Before the connection breaks, we hear a loud bat voice: How many times do I need to tell you? Never do an interview with one of those liberal animal groups! They always make us look bad.)


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(all pictures courtesy of Google Images)


Is WordPress Specie-ist?

As I was wandering through some blogs a few days ago, I made a discovery. There are a lot of blogs about/by cats. Which makes sense, since everyone knows cats are the original Internet stars. There are probably an equal number about dogs, although I really didn’t do a full recon on that. In fairness, for me size matters when it comes to dogs. Generally speaking, I prefer those of 40 pounds or more.

Of course, I found some posts about hedgehogs. Lord Nelson (my hedgehog) seemed to be the predominant recurring character. I guess grumpy and spiny is not for everyone. In fairness to Horatio, though, he has stopped huffing at me.

The only thing I found for bears were some very nice photos, but nothing with any personality. Likewise for most creatures who live in the wild. Raccoons and bats made the cut for the cuteness or nuisance factor. Not exactly material for an ongoing storyline. I disqualified blogs like Cute Overload who have a variety of animals, but only pictures/videos intended to make you say “awwwww”.

Then I tried to figure out how one would put backyard critters in a blog. When I looked out the window this morning, I would have sworn it was November: cool, gray and rainy. Eureka! A story about how the little guys decide where to winter. Hint: most of them can’t afford the fare to Florida or Padre Island. If we’re quiet, we can listen in:

The fall meeting of the semi-rural/suburban animals was about to get started. Squirrel, the most energetic of the group, was getting ready to moderate. He looked around to make sure everyone was represented.

Then he frowned and pointed. “You predators, you know you’re not allowed at these meetings.” The coyote slunk off, but the rest stayed.

Fox: You never let us stay. What are going to say that’s so top-secret?

Squirrel: You know very well that the main topics of these meetings are food and safety. The last time we let you guys stay, you and raccoon spent the meeting whispering about which of us looked tastiest and which was the easiest to catch. We’re talking about winter survival today. Now scram!

Raccoon: We have to survive too, you know.

Squirrel: Maybe, but not by eating us.

Fox and Raccoon walked away. The deer made a circle around the little group to keep them out.

Squirrel: OK, does everyone have a den ready?

Woodchuck: We found a great place under an old tree trunk. My cousin Woody already claimed the primo spot under the deck.

Rabbit: Just remember, Woodchuck, we live in that complex too. Keep the noise down.

Woodchuck: What are you talking about? We hibernate all winter. You guys are the ones practicing to repopulate the world in the spring.

Mouse: We’re taking our usual spot in the walls of those two old houses over there (points to a couple of Victorian holdovers).

Mole: Well, be careful. There’s a couple of domestics over there that roam around a lot outside.

Mouse: Not to worry. The pointy-eared one spends the winter in front of the fire and the floppy-eared one only comes out to mess up the landscape. The human won’t stay out and play with him.

Squirrel: Are all of you going to fit in those two houses?

Mouse: Not a chance! But the older kids want to try toughing it out in the woodpile. I tried to tell them that the humans use those woodpiles in the winter. They think they won’t get caught. You know what it’s like trying to talk to kids.

The animals all laugh and nod.

Frog: It’s almost time for us to burrow into the mud for the season, so we’re set.

Snake: Same here. What about you, squirrel?

Squirrel: We’re splitting up this year. Some of us are going the usual route and sleeping in trees. But my brother Earl heard that attics are nice and toasty in the winter.

Mole: There’s bats up there!

Squirrel: Earl says they were all driven out over the summer.

Mole: But the humans will hear you.

Squirrel: That’s part of the plan. The mice will be in the walls and the squirrels will be in the attic. It’ll drive the humans nuts, but it will be too cold for them to do anything about it. We just have to get out quick in the spring.

Mole: I think the rest of us will just hang out at the club underground. It’s pretty cozy if we cuddle up. We mostly sleep anyway.

Squirrel: Well, it looks like everyone’s set. The community center has extra nesting material if you still need any. Otherwise, on to the potluck! Remember, you can take as much as you want, but eat everything you take. It’s the season for bulking up, we don’t want any food to get wasted. Anything you brought that’s not eaten, you can either take home or donate to the emergency pantry.

The animals disperse to eat and talk.

The humans have been inside commenting on how cute they all are. They don’t realize they are about to be invaded.



Mice: They’re Not Just for Snacking

This morning my husband comes downstairs, says good morning followed by “Kommando has another mouse.”

When we moved to exurbia awhile back, I understood that in return for the extra space there would be some adjustments. At the time, the house had LP heating (at better than $400/month to heat the house), a well, and a septic tank. We still have the well and septic tank, but fortunately a natural gas line was put through. The neighbor on one side is close enough that we could hear when he played really awful music really loud. But the other three sides are pretty much open. But what we don’t have in humans, we make up for in critters.

Most of the critters are pretty cute. Although it is almost impossible to have a garden, I like looking out and seeing the deer and rabbits. The raccoons and woodchucks are cute, if somewhat destructive. Every once in awhile, there’s a possum, skunk, or coyote. We have some small, harmless snakes. And then we have the rodents. I realize that the more scientific of you will disagree, but I count the mice and bats as rodents. Why bats? Both my grandmother and husband have tried to get me to like them by telling me that they are just mice with wings. I don’t like having mice in my house and I don’t like having bats there either.

Looking back, I do feel a little bad about making my husband get the bat off our son’s ceiling the same day he had shoulder surgery. But a few years later, while he was on a fishing trip another bat got in, and I had to call a neighbor to remove it. Both of those were pretty embarrassing, but the worst came a couple of years later. I had the house to myself, with everyone else out of town.

One night, I heard scratching at the baseboard in my bedroom, but couldn’t see anything. I turned out the light and went to sleep. My head itched, and when I scratched there was something in it. I screamed and tossed it on the bed. Turned on the light and couldn’t find anything. In the morning, there was the bat. So don’t let anyone tell you that bats won’t come near you. That one was trying to cuddle with me. Needless to say, he quickly joined his friends outside.

From the day we moved in, there was scratching in the walls. My husband said it was natural, we had moved into an old farmhouse. Lovely. I figured as long as they stayed in the walls, we could coexist. The day before Thanksgiving the first year, I was alone cleaning when I saw the first one. He was sitting in the living room looking at me. I do not like mice, and I particularly don’t like mice who look at me rather than running. Our two “city” cats were nowhere to be found.

Eventually Rascal discovered that mice were great fun to play with and made excellent gifts when dead. She became a skilled hunter, extremely patient and quick to pounce. The other cat, Critter, became more skilled as well. The highlight was the night she brought one of her “toys” to bed and started to play with it. Needless to say, that was a one-time event. Critter was also the one who pounced on the bat in the hallway. Apparently she thought they were just mice with wings too.

Unfortunately, like the rest of us, the cats aged. Eventually they both lost their hearing. Until the end, Rascal would sit in the pantry, watching for mice. For awhile, the mice held the upper hand.

Last summer, we got another set of cats. SuperSnoops (she put her nose into everything when we brought her into the house) aka Snoops came from the shelter. Kommando Kitty was left as a kitten. A repairman found her in the window well. He got her out, and she proceeded to try to leap across the window well again to get in the window. Sweet cat; a little impulsive. Unfortunately neither cat showed any mousing skill. I could hear snickering behind the walls.

As you may know, fall and spring are moving seasons for mice. They go to and from their winter homes. Ours had gotten a little too complacent. Snoops discovered that they like to come out at the basesboards. Every evening she goes on “mouse patrol”. This week she was finally rewarded. Three one day, two the next, and so on. Kommando has no patience, but is learning from a master.

I’ve never been a fan of those “circle of life” wildlife programs. It’s a little disconcerting to see it in your own house. Particularly since our cats have the instinct to catch the prey, play with it, and kill it, but absolutely no inclination whatsoever to eat it (they seem to find the idea somewhat revolting). Sometimes, we don’t even get to the kill part. Kommando in particular, subscribes to the catch and release school of mousing.

Before you start to think of our house as akin to a Roman arena, I would like to clarify that the mice brought this on themselves. Once we had put all of our pantry foods in plastic tubs and other containers, I thought we had sent them a clear message. However, they also like dry cat food – a lot.

So the cats are simply protecting their food. And my food. And my furniture. And my sanity (such as it is).