08 July 2010

Une chauve-souris dans la cheminée

I was going to say: Same bat time... same bat place. But it wasn't either of those. It was another bat. A baby. In French, a bat is called « une chauve-souris » — "a bald mouse." I didn't know why until I looked it up a second ago.

Here's the story: We have an electric fan in the living room for the summer. It sits on the floor right in front of the fireplace, which has a wood stove in it. Early yesterday evening, when the air outside was starting to cool down, I went over to switch the fan on.

Something moving, slowly, in the wood stove

As I did, my eye caught sight of a slight movement inside the wood stove, which has a glass window in the door that lets you enjoy watching the fire on cold winter evenings. My first thought was "rodent" — but the movement was too slow and deliberate for it to be a mouse. Could it be a toad? No, probably not, though we have lots of toads around the yard.

And then I realized it was a bat, and a very small one at that. It must have fallen down the chimney, I guessed. I tried to take some pictures but there were too many reflections on the stove's glass door at that hour to get anything clear. Walt came over to look.

We decided to open the stove door and see if the baby bat would fly away. "We'll have to try to shoo him out of the house," Walt said. All the windows were wide open. But when we opened the door, the bat just sat there. He seemed weak or somehow stunned. Maybe he was dying.

The baby bat on a gardening glove

Walt ran downstairs and found a pair of thick leather gardening gloves. He carefully picked the baby bat up and took him out to the table on the terrace. The bat still just sat there. Walt carefully pulled his hand out of the gardening glove and the bat stayed on it, on the table, not really moving.

Then Walt went and got a tablespoon filled with fresh cold water. I was thinking, well, if I had been lying in ashes in the bottom of a wood stove on a hot day in July, I'd probably be pretty thirsty. When we offered the spoonful of water, the baby bat drank some, tentatively. Then he drank a little more.

At that point, I went and got a teaspoonful of milk. When I offered that to the baby bat, he drank eagerly. Daintily, but eagerly. He obviously liked it. The amount he consumed was not more than a few drops, but then he was a tiny creature.

He drank some water out of a soup spoon, and then some milk.

Suddenly, he started moving. He crawled a few inches to the edge of the table and hung there by one foot, head down. I thought maybe he needed a little more milk, so I held the spoon close to his face for a few seconds. He didn't seem to want any more.

Then he crawled back up onto the table. I tried to give him more water, but no dice. So I came back inside to look at some pictures I had taken. A few minutes later, when I went back outside to see what he was doing, there was no sign of him. He was gone. I hope and assume that he flew away, small as he was.

Walt said he thought the bat he accidentally killed the other night just might have been this little one's mother. I wonder if she and the baby might have been living in the top of our fireplace chimney. If so, the mama bat obviously flew into our attic window by mistake and couldn't find her way back out. She perished.

The baby bat stayed in this position on the edge of our
outdoor table for a few minutes. Then he was gone.

At least we saved, possibly, the baby. He really lapped up that milk. We didn't see him fly away, but I searched all around and couldn't find him anywhere under the table or chairs, or in the geraniums we have in planter boxes.

I read on Wikipedia that female bats usually have just one baby at a time, several times a year.

I read on another web site that the French term for bat, chauve-souris, comes from a Greek term, cawa sorix, that meant "owl mouse"— owl for the bat's nocturnal habits and its wide wingspan, and mouse for the shape of its body and head. The word cawa gradually got confused with the Latin/French word calva, from which are derived calvitie (baldness) and chauve (bald). That's how the bat became a "bald mouse."


  1. Sounds like you found that baby bat just in time. A few more hours in there, and it might have been dead. It may stick around, just out of recognition for saving its life ... And so you've got yourself a new pet!
    Btw, those leather gardengloves look familiar ;)

  2. Thank goodness you saved him. We get lots of small bats around here and found out that they are a protected species.
    You might, indeed, have acquired a new pet.

  3. We get bats all the time. Actually last night one flew in our open bedroom window. We found him again this morning and helped him outside. I think that we have had at least 5 or 6 in the house now, but I am starting to wonder if it isn't always the same guy coming back...

  4. No blood supply in your fridge?

  5. This is giving me the creeps. Bats can carry rabies and when they are acting not as usual, it is especially dangerous. I know of a doctor who insisted he and his wife get the rabies vaccine not knowing if they were bit, but just because of the fact that they had one in their bedroom. Be careful.

  6. I agree with my wife SUsan - bats are to be rid of as soon as possible - once they lay their odor in a house, they will keep coming back - more and more of them - we were chased from a cabin after putting up with the racket in the ceiling after 4 years when they finally started coming in. If they act weird, I would destroy them! sorry for being inhumane but these buggers can be deadly!

  7. Nadège, most bats eat only insects and fruit. The ones that feed on the blood of cattle are very rare. I'm not sure there are any in France.

    Susan and Dale, don't worry. Rabies is rare in France (unlike in the U.S.). We are careful.

  8. Awww, that was a sweet little fellow. I'm glad you thought of the milk for the baby. I hope he can make it on his own. I didn't know that bats have so few babies at a time.

    You got some great photos- I'm afraid of bats when they are in my house, but when you look at them close up their heads look like a fox and they are not so menacing.

    I just read that in addition to bug eating, they are good pollinators, so we need to protect them like you did.

  9. Really wonderful photos and a nice outcome to the story. I am so glad you took care of the little guy. I would have done the same.

  10. You guys are true princes. I am ashamed to admit that I would have not at all been able to calmly deal with little bitty batty baby. Or maman chauve-souris. These photos are incredible, too.


  11. Your thoughtful care for the little wild creature kind of choked me up. Like Judy, I couldn't have done it.

    Bats give me the creeps; we have them in our siding and attic. We worry about rabies. For years we would sit on the porch in the evening till the bat flock--dozens--began to come out, then I'd shudder and go indoors.

    But now the White-nose syndrome has killed them. We saw only one bat two nights ago and none last night. This can't be good. I wanted them gone away, but not dead.

  12. It certainly was a tiny thing.

  13. Could be Geoffroy's Bat - it seems to have the characteristic notch in the ear. This species is rather uncommon. It doesn't look like a baby to me. Geoffroy's Bat is about 4-5cm long. Giving it water was a really good idea, but milk is a bit more risky. Many wild mammals can't tolerate cows milk - gives them diarrhoea. You did the right thing handling him with gloves or a cloth - they like to have something to cling on to, and you are not leaving your scent on them too much (or risking the various diseases bats can pass on occasionally). The fact that you didn't find a little body tells me that he flew off and is almost certainly OK. All bat species are completely protected in France, with maternal and hibernation roosts singled out for special protection.

  14. Geoffroy's Bat is Myotis emarginatus according to what I read, and the literature says it is 8.5 to 9.5 cm long.

    I thought about the milk but couldn't think what else to give the weakened animal. Maybe the diarrhea cleaned the ashes out of his system.

  15. 8-9cm would be a nose to tail tip measurement. In the hand the body measurement of 4-5cm gives you a more realistic idea of their size (excluding the tail, as it is curled underneath them unless they are flying, so you don't really see it).

    In terms of what to feed them in these short term emergency situations, nothing is probably a good option, but if you could find a nice fat moth that might work. I would try very tiny shreds of scrambled egg or minced beef too if it's a real emergency. Mealworms are what they use in the bat sanctuaries.

  16. Susan, it's hard to find time to start cooking eggs or ground beef, or searching for moths and grubs, When you have no warning that the distressed bat might be urgently hungry!

  17. Bats shouldn't give anybody the creeps, they are beautiful, beautiful creatures and should be cherished.


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