Friday morning I got a call from my friend Dan Neubaum, “You home? Want to see a Spotted bat?” And I thought, “That is a waste of a question mark Dan,” but I said “Heck yeah!”
A gentleman in my little town had found this bat on his front porch when he headed out in the morning. A bit dumbfounded, as you would be if you found this fantastical creature on your doorstep, he searched the internet and somehow stumbled across this article I wrote on Spotted bats for the local paper about three years ago. In the article I described how biologists were on the lookout for this species and provided Dan’s contact information. Dan is a wildlife biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Dan loves bats (he did his Master’s research on them), and upon receiving the gentleman’s call he quickly hustled out to Fruita to pick up the bat. It was unable to fly but appeared uninjured. Since the bat was found just a few blocks from my house, he very thoughtfully swung by so I could get a look at it.
Spotted bats are uncommon and rarely recorded, but this is actually the second spotted bat reported to Dan as a result of my newspaper article. Soon after it was originally published, a local resident contacted Dan to report he had seen one in his yard- and had pictures to prove it! That newspaper assignment paid peanuts, but I consider it one of my best successes in my (very limited) writing career.
Even more exciting, Friday’s Spotted bat was a lactating female. This is exciting because it means that they are breeding in the area (yay!) It’s also exciting if you’ve been wondering what bat boobs look like (but were afraid to admit it). Apparently they look (disturbingly) like human boobs. I guess a boob is a boob- we’re all just mammals.
Thankfully, Dan said that at this time of year, this mom’s pup was probably flying and feeding independently (though still nursing some) which means that if she recovered they could reunite and mom’s absence wasn’t necessarily a death sentence for her pup. Dan took mama Spotted bat back to his house and let her crawl up in his bat box to rest for the day.
At dusk, mama bat flew out of the box and Dan said she looked pretty strong. Hopefully her weekend turned out better than her Friday. While I enjoyed the experience of “meeting” her, I am sure it wasn’t how she planned to spend her day. Still I am very thankful Dan thought to bring her by so I could check her out. Look at those crazy ears!
The Spotted Bat sports some outlandish ears. Photo by Dan Neubaum
High above the canyons of the Colorado National Monument flies one of the state’s most elusive creatures. A winged crusader in bold costume, he patrols the Grand Valley, pursuing the insect hordes that threaten to overrun us. Concealing himself on high cliffs during the day and emerging only in darkness, little is known about this large-eared hunter and scientists are eager to learn more. They want to know- have you spotted this bat?
The Spotted bat may be Colorado’s most unusual looking mammal. It is one of Colorado’s larger bats, about four and a half inches from nose to tail with a wingspan of about 14 inches, but is distinguished by its outrageously long ears and bold coloration. The fur on the bat’s body is black with three large white spots that suggest two eyes and a mouth. Biologists speculate that these markings may function to scare off predators, as do the eyespots on butterfly wings. Very little is known about the Spotted bat because it is difficult to catch. It roosts in crevices on high cliff faces and it tends to fly above the reach of bat biologist’s nets when hunting for insects. It was not observed in Colorado until 1982 and until recently had only been seen at Dinosaur National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park. Biologists at Colorado Parks and Wildlife suspected that the Spotted bat also occured in our area because the cliffs in the Monument are similar to the habitats where it was found in Mesa Verde- but they had no proof. Then, in 2011, a resident in Mack brought in a dead bat, likely killed by a housecat, that he had found on his property. Biologist Dan Neubaum was very excited. Not only was it a Spotted bat- it was a lactating female, which meant that the bats were breeding in the area.
Oddly enough you are more likely to hear Spotted bats than see them. Many bats emit high-pitched sounds that bounce off objects in their environment and return to the bats ears as echoes. Bats use these echoes to locate objects, like insects, and “see” in the dark- this is called echolocation. Most echolocation calls are so high-pitched that human ears cannot hear them. But two bat species in our area have calls that are low enough in pitch that they are audible to humans, at least those of us with good hearing. If you are down by the Colorado River at nightfall and you think you are hearing bats, do not be alarmed. You aren’t turning into batman or a vampire- you are hearing either a Spotted bat or a Big Free-tailed bat. Their calls are difficult to tell apart unless you have a highly trained ear, but will sound like two small metal balls being repeatedly struck together. The sound will be moving as the bat flies around rather than stationary like most insect sounds.
CPW biologists are hoping to do a survey of the Colorado National Monument soon to get a better picture of the bat species that are present there. In the meantime, Neubaum says they’d love to hear from the public if they have seen a Spotted bat or have any information about bat roosting sites in the area. You can contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 255-6192. If you find a bat on the ground, please do not handle it- bats can carry diseases such as rabies. Transmission of rabies from bats to humans is very rare, but may occur when a bat is improperly handled. Overall bats do us much more good than harm- bats consume not only mosquitos, but are also one of the most important predators of insect pests that attack crops. We are lucky to have bats and we are especially lucky to have the Spotted bat. Try and spot one!
An edited version of this article originally appeared in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel on September 10, 2013. Shortly after it was published, a reader contacted biologist Dan Neubaum to report a reliable sighting (with photographic evidence) of a Spotted Bat near Grand Junction- the second record of the species for Mesa County. Hooray for citizen science!