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Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Flap in the Night

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I awakened to a soft flapping, passing close over my head. It circled rapidly back and forth, within the confines of our small bedroom. Although I’d never heard it before, instinctively I knew exactly what it was.
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 In the darkness, my husband’s silhouette stood out against the pale square of window. The logical, naturalist part of my brain knew that this was perfectly harmless - more at home and able to “see” in the dark than we were. But the more primitive, heard-all-the-old-wives’-tales part screamed BEWARE! so I ducked under the covers in spite of myself.

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Curiosity prevailed and I slowly emerged. We had no idea how it came in, even less how to help it leave. My husband opened the bedroom door; it left quickly, flapped down to the living room. Opening an outside door didn’t work, as it fluttered frantically in and out of rooms. Chasing it with an inverted broom or trying to trap it with a beach towel only increased its anxiety - and ours. Finally, we turned on all the lights, opened all the doors, and backed off. It was gone in a flash.

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Searching for its entrance, we discovered another one struggling to emerge from between the metal insert and the rock front of the fireplace. Carefully grasping it with a pair of tongs, we placed it in a large jar, punched holes in the lid, and called it a night.


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The next morning, we got a close-up look at one of these marvelous little creatures. One of the most common kinds, the Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) has a species name which appropriately means "flies from light". To maneuver so well in darkness, it relies on echo-location, emitting high pitched sounds which reflect off of solid objects and inform the bat of its position with respect to these objects. Although we could not hear the sounds, that is undoubtedly how the bat found the open doors.
 



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With forelimbs modified as wings, their extra-long fingers serve as a framework on which a thin membrane of skin is stretched. The tail and hind limbs are connected by a similar membrane. Living in colonies, bats leave their daytime retreat at dusk, feeding on insects as they make their erratic flights near water or forest. Voracious eaters, a single bat may eat a quarter of its weight in bugs a night. Returning to their roosting site just before dawn, they spend the daylight hours hanging upside down, secured by the claws of their hand feet.


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Although bats can carry rabies or other diseases, rarely are humans infected. Unfairly maligned, they don’t purposely attack or fly into the hair of humans, seeking instead to avoid them when at all possible. The ones that invaded our space probably did so out of confusion. Having spent a quiet summer roosting in our chimney, the first fire of the season had disoriented them, sending them downward and seeking a way out. The one that crawled free found itself still trapped and, following the scent of fresh air, crawled with ease and agility through the one-inch space under the bedroom door. It had no way of knowing that the window was screened, that the two of us lurked inside. That, armed with our weapons of choice, we’d soon create bedlam in its quiet little life. Who’s batty now?

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The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hand.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
Psalm 19: 1-2

2 comments:

  1. Never a dull moment in your lives -- it's part of your charm.

    Did you name them?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nope - too much chaos that night, and it never happened again. We put screening over the top of the chimney!

    ReplyDelete