The Red Bat

Red Bat by Merlin Tuttle of Bat Conservation International

By Alyssa Nyberg
Alyssa has been the Native Plant Nursery Manager at Kankakee Sands for 14 years.

Each day I seem to learn something new in nature.   A few weeks ago, I was out on a jog around Kankakee Sands when I happened to have the great fortune to see a red bat.

I, like most people, do enjoy mammals quite a bit.  But the bat is just one of those mammals with which I am not 100% comfortable.  The small, four-inch, furry, red bat I found myself looking at was pretty harmless; it had died, likely hit by a car.

When I returned home from the jog, I read more about the red bat in Mammals of the Great Lakes Region by William H. Burt.  It turns out that the red bat (Lasiurus borealis) is a solitary bat, which lives in wooded areas.  It spends much of the daytime hanging in a tree, and the evening flying and eating insects, mostly moths and beetles.  Each night the red bat must eat half its body weight in insects.  Imagine if you and I had to do that! (YUCK!) Red bats weigh between 0.25 and 0.5 ounces.

Most red bats are either brick red or yellow-ish red in color.  They are covered in a wooly fur.  Each hair on the red bat has a black base, then a band of yellow, a narrow band of red, and faintly tipped with white.  A sort of bat hair rainbow!

The key identifying feature of the red bat is that the portion of the wing that extends from the arm all the way down to the rump, called the interfemoral membrane, is completely covered in those striped hairs.

Female red bats have one to four young in June.  The young bats cling to their mother until they are too heavy for her to carry in flight.  In fact, “it is not unusual to find a mother stranded on the ground, unable to take flight, because of the heavy burden of young clinging to the fur of her breast”, William Burt writes.  When I read that sentence, I suddenly felt a deep connection, mammal to mammal, with the red bat.  There have been days when I too have felt the heavy burden of young children and felt unable to get up!

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