There's a Bat Out There! And it's Eating Mosquitoes, Not Your Blood

I’m a very lucky person because I get to be a zookeeper! The most rewarding thing about my career is waking up in the morning and knowing that I have an important job to do – a job that can make the world a better place. I get to spend time with animals, learn about them, and hopefully help others learn, too. Bats are one of my very favorite animals to talk about. In fact, you can come learn about bats every day at the zoo during our 10:30 Bat Chat! There are so many myths and so much fear and misinformation surrounding bats that I consider it a special honor to work with them and help people understand them better.

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But even when you have the best job in the world you need a vacation sometimes. You would think that working day in and day out with the hundreds of animals in the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo I might want a break from fur, feathers, and talons, but nope!  When I take a trip I want to see lots of animals. So recently, my husband and I decided to visit Costa Rica.

Our first day there we got to our resort and starting exploring. We happened upon a quiet, dark building were a young couple was playing a game of pool. We asked them what else was in the building. They said, not much, but…

“Don’t go in the women’s bathroom!” the young woman warned me. “There’s a BAT in there!”

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Needless to say my husband and I ran…but not in the direction the woman expected. When we reached the empty bathroom we slowed down and walked quietly inside. Sure enough, hanging from the ceiling was a small, brown bat, looking down at me with a very familiar face!

“It’s a Carollia!” I said. “A Seba’s short-tailed fruit bat like I take care of at the zoo!”

I had traveled over a thousand miles and the first animal that I saw was one that I spend hours with every week at the zoo – I take care of around 70 of them actually – and it was magical. I appreciated its warm, alert brown eyes, its constantly wiggling little ears, and its turned-up, leaf-shaped nose like I was seeing it all for the first time.

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I inched closer until the bat finally got frightened and flew over our heads and out the door of the bathroom. We heard the woman outside start screaming. She screamed and screamed and screamed! When she finished she stuck her head in the bathroom, embarrassed.

“You guys didn’t scream,” she said.

“Nope.”

As we walked away my husband said, “It’s so weird that she would react that way to such a tiny animal. It didn’t want anything to do with us. It wouldn’t let us get anywhere near it! And that woman screamed like she was being chased by a tiger!”

“Yeah,” I replied, “And the funny thing is, the bat was just trying to get away, so really, she wasn’t even being chased by a bat!”

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Now, there are probably some of you out there who completely understand the woman’s reaction. It’s easy to let the big, scary idea of an animal that we learn from TV and movies and countless images get in the way of seeing something for what it is – in this case a very small, very shy animal. It can be hard for those of us who work with animals to understand how something we regard with so much excitement and awe could possibly be a source of fear, or worse, disgust for others.

A lot of people believe that every single bat has rabies, and it’s true that rabies is a scary, scary disease. If you see a bat that’s on the ground or out during the daytime, there is definitely something wrong. Bats are wonderful to watch but you should never touch a bat under any circumstances! You can check out this website for more information about wildlife and rabies and how to stay safe!

Bats and Rabies information from Bat Conservation International

 

All that being said, if you see a bat flying around at night doing normal bat things there is almost no chance that animal is sick, and even less chance it’s going to get anywhere near you!

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For some reason, people also have the crazy idea that bats want to get in your hair. That’s an odd one. I’ve had the occasional bat accidentally land on me while I was cleaning their exhibit, but they never stay long and they don’t seem to have any interest in re-styling my ponytail. Some people even believe that bats will turn into vampires. It goes to show you how silly we can be when we let ourselves be afraid of something unknown. In reality, unless you’re an insect or a piece of fruit, there’s nothing frightening about bats.

When you take the time to learn about bats you start to see only the cool things, the ways in which bats are both incredibly strange and remarkably similar to us at the same time. The skeletal structure of a bat looks surprisingly like ours with hand and fingers bones stretched out into the amazing wings that make them the only flying mammal. Bats do so many of the same things we do! They eat food and try to stay safe, they have live birth and nurse their young. But they do it all upside down!

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They have all these special adaptations because they have important jobs to do, too.  Whether it’s pollinating flowers so that plants can reproduce, eating mosquitoes and crop pests like they do in our own backyard here in Houston, spreading seeds around like the Seba’s short-tailed fruit bat, or helping researchers find ways to treat heart attack victims like the much maligned vampire bats, bats all have an important job to do – a job that makes the world better. A job we can’t afford for them to take a vacation from.

I really am a very lucky person. I get to take cool trips. I have a husband who will run into the lady’s room to look at a bat with me. In Costa Rica I got to see bats swirling around a waterfall deep in the jungle. I got to see bats catching fish in the ocean. And when I came home I got to go back to my important job where every day I get to watch bats lick nectar with a tongue that’s as long as their bodies and hang from the ceiling to take a bath just like a tiny, upside-down kitty cat.

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I hope the next time you see a bat, whether it’s the first bat you’ve ever come across or your millionth, that you’ll think about the important job it’s busy doing and you’ll look at it like you’re seeing it for the first time. I hope you’ll think about how lucky you are – how lucky we all are! – to share the world with such strange and special creatures. And most of all I hope you’ll realize that understanding bats is an important job that YOU could do.

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Bats emerging from the Waugh Drive bridge.


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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam. Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.

The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/
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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam.  Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years. 
 
The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: https://www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/

 

Comment on Facebook

Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur; happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr #RIP #bigbangtheory

Is this the one that had the limp?

Rest in peace, thanks Zoo for the great care! 20 years wow

My thoughts of sympathy are with you all. I can't even imagine the sadness you feel today.

Thank you to you and your staff for the years of quality care given this magnificant creature.

Hugs to all of you keepers that took special care of Kan Balam.

I know he lived a lot longer due to the excellent care he got at the Zoo.

Heartfelt condolences to the veterinary and keeper staff. Thank you for taking care of him

Katie Wilson did you see this?

My condolences to the keepers and staff. He was a beautiful animal, and we enjoyed seeing him.

Thank you for providing him with a caring and enriched life. So sorry for your loss!

I am so very sorry for all of you that loved and cared for him.

So sorry to read this. It is always a hard decision. RIP and run free sweet boy.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for taking such great care of him so he was able to live a long life. My thoughts are with his keepers and all who adored him. <3

Condolences to the carnivore keepers and veterinary staff.

RIP Kan & run free - condolences to the Houston zoo carnivore team 😥

RIP Kan. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

What a long, love filled life. Rest in Peace Kan💖

So sorry. He was one beautiful animal.

RIP ... My condolences to the staff ... 😥 ...

Awe :( RIP Kan Balam!! You were a beautiful soul for sure!!!

I am so so sorry, Katie Rose Buckley-Jones and sending you lots of love hugs and prayers. ❤️🙏🏻

Katie Rose Buckley-Jones I won’t ever forget the time you asked him to bring something and he ripped off a piece of cardboard and tried to hand it to you ❤️ thank you for introducing me to him. Sending you guys many hugs

Sorry to hear about your loss Katie ❤️

Carmen, Cynthia, Claudia was he out when y’all went?

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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: I'm still using this.
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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: Im still using this.

 

Comment on Facebook

Are there some zoo animals that enjoy this weather?

SMG is another reason why Houston Zoo is the best Zoo!

Happy New Year “sea lion keeper “ 💖💖

More snow for TJ and Max ❤️ lucky them!

Are we positive that’s the statue rather than it really just being that cold? 😛

That’s my best friend Sophie for ya! 😂

Brrrrr

Omg the Zoo is so awesome 😂😂😂 Alana Berry

Omg be warm sweetoe

Haha!! Good one!

Sweetie 💞

Ashley Jucker 😂

Mike DePope

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We've heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing? ... See MoreSee Less

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Weve heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing?

 

Comment on Facebook

Ok, it took me a minute to get this. I was literally zooming in to try to find the mouse. 🤦🏻‍♀️🙄😂

Cindy Christina Angela Ramirez see I told y’all! Lol

Andrew Kaufmann Look its Richard Jr! 😂

Wow ... good photo shot ... show the world that you need to protect your pipe ... if not, freezing water will expand the pipe and crack the pipe !!!

“Baby it’s cold outside!”

I fell for the mouse thing too..

That's nothing! Talk to keepers from the northern states or Canada!

i was honestly looking for a mouse lol

Johnnie R. Summerlin, cool, see the "stalagm ice"?

Wow,that is so neat!

Annecia Wesley but where is the ice bacon? Lol

Two words. Pipe insulation.

That’s awesome!

Ana Rivers Smith cool!

Cortez

Pauline Ervin

Denise Daigre

Ashley Nguyen

Vicente Gonzalez

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