KIDS: Feature Story - The Bat Lady

{Spotlight Page Header} In the Spotlight
MEET THE BAT LADY - GERRI GRISWOLD, Winsted, CT

 

{Gerri Griswold and Poppie} How did you get the name  “The Bat Lady”?

The Bat Lady:  I was doing an interview on Lifetime Television about ten years ago and the host of the show called me The Bat Lady. The name came to her naturally. Suddenly everybody was calling me The Bat Lady. I always say that is not important to remember my real name as long as you remember my message about the importance of bats. 

 

When did you first become interested in bats?  

The Bat Lady:
I have loved bats since I was a kid. I live today on the same farm that I grew up on as a child. Having bats around is part of a farm's ecology. It also helped that my father worked in forestry and he, as well as the land around me, taught me about wildlife. My mom was from The City (New Britain) and was terrified of bats. Obviously my dad's influence was stronger than my mom's. My mom feared bats because she didn't understand them. People are always afraid of the unknown. Later in life, my mom loved bats because I taught her about them.   

{Bat eating mealworm} Why do some bats need to be taken care of by people?

The Bat Lady:
It is the same as some people needing to be taken care of by other people. All living things deserve a chance to feel healthy and to live free. Often times a baby bat will become separated from its mother. I have raised many as orphans. Some can be released back into the wild and others become so familiar with people (this is called imprinting) that they need to stay in captivity and be used as animals for education. NO BAT IS MEANT TO BE KEPT AS A PET! Other bats might have a wing injury, such as a broken bone or a tear in the web of their wing. I work with my veterinarian to fix those problems. Sometimes when a bat is hibernating in the winter it is disturbed and wakes up. I often get bats like this in during the winter months. Because waking a bat up during hibernation costs the animal a great deal of its stored fuel, that animal will stay with me until spring. Then it is guaranteed food if it runs out of its own body fat before all of those delicious bugs arrive in spring. When there are sufficient bugs around, I let the bat go. 

{Gerri with two bats on her hand} What do you do to take care of bats?  

The Bat Lady:
I provide them with proper caging and food and plenty of fresh water. Cages are disinfected daily. If they are pups (babies) they need an incubator and get a special milk formula every two hours for two weeks and then I begin weaning them onto mealworms. If they are sick or injured, depending on what kind of bat it is, I put them in proper cages and give them medicine. Bats are very smart animals and learn very quickly how to feed from dishes. This might seem simple to us but it isn't a simple idea to most wildlife. I have a flight cage for exercising bats before I release them to make sure they are strong enough to fly. 

What type of bats do you take care of?
{Bat in corner of cage}
The Bat Lady:
Primarily native bats of Connecticut: Big Browns, Little Browns, these are fairly common. Occasionally I receive some of our species of special concern like the Red Bat, Hoary Bat and Silver Bat. All of these animals are threatened with extinction in our state in part because they are losing habitats (homes) which include big, old trees. I also have two very special friends, Tutti and Babs, Egyptian Fruit Bats, who are extremely shy and not happy visiting people. I hope one day I'll be able to present them to the public. They will tell me if that time ever comes - not with words but with behavior. It is unfair to take any animal out to meet the public if it is scared. I have a great deal of respect for my bats and feel it is an honor and privilege that the State allows me to do what I do with the animals. 

{Gerri with parrot} How do you train to become a wildlife rehabilitator?

The Bat Lady:
When I became licensed in 1992, I studied to take an examination. Even though I wanted only to work with bats, I needed to learn basic care for all wildlife. Today there is a wonderful mentoring program set up by Laurie Fortin, who heads up the Department of Environmental Protection Wildlife Division's Rehabilitation Program. You actually work with another wildlife rehabilitator and learn basics as part of your licensing. Nobody can get his/her permit without the support of a Veterinarian. There is still very little written about caring for bats. There was even less in 1992. Those of us who work with bats are, in a way, pioneers. Imagine...bats have been on our planet for 55 million years and we have only studied them for the last thirty years! My vet often says I know more about bats than he does!   

Is this your full-time job?

The Bat Lady:
I wish! I make my living as a traffic reporter on the radio. Most of us are regular people with regular jobs. We all have an uncommon love for Connecticut's wildlife. We volunteer to help animals. Most of the cost of being a wildlife rehabilitator comes out of your own pocket. I can, and do, charge as a speaker. This is how I can help pay for mealworms, licenses, caging, and also mangoes for my greedy little fruit bats.


 

 
 


What would you like people to know about bats?  

The Bat Lady:
Bats are the kindest, gentlest creatures on our planet. They are of no harm to humans if humans just leave them alone. Again...I caution all children and adults NEVER to touch bats or any other wildlife. What bats do for our planet is astonishing! The earth cannot survive without the contributions made by bats. They are the number one controller of night flying insects worldwide. They are primary pollinators and seed dispersers for many plants such as bananas, mangoes, cashews, dates, and figs. Even their poop...yes, POOP...called guano, is considered the world's most valuable fertilizer!   

Is there an interesting story you have about an experience with a bat?

The Bat Lady:
So many! My sister and I found a bat pup in my backyard several years ago. I knew he was too young to fly and with all of the cats around in my yard I thought it best that I take him in as an orphan. I set up an incubator for him and gave him some formula and then plugged the incubator by my bed for the night. A baby bat can fly in just four weeks so, from the moment they are born, they are constantly stretching and fluttering their wings. All night long the little guy was drumming away in his incubator. I didn't sleep a wink. Just as dawn was breaking I saw an adult Big Brown Bat land on my bedroom screen. She started flying off and on the screen while the pup was drumming away. It was like a circus! I finally realized that maybe I had her baby! I took him over to the window and judging from her reaction, I saw she REALLY wanted him back! I started unlatching the screen and she tried flying onto my arm (not being aggressive, she just wanted to get to her pup). I shooed her away long enough to place him on the outside of the screen. She immediately flew down and began grooming him. He began drinking his mother's milk and in just a few seconds, the pup attached himself to his mom's underside and she flew away with him. This brilliant mother spent at least eight hours flying around hearing her pup's sonar voice (which we can't hear) and finally figured out where he was. I was kind of the Day Care Center for the pup.   

{Gerri in front of bat cages} How many bats do you take care of at one time?

The Bat Lady:
It depends. Sometimes just a few but I have had as many as twenty-five with me at one time. I have six bats that live with me permanently. These animals cannot be set free. I am licensed by the State and Federal Governments to keep the animals for educational programs. Last year, with the help of my wonderful bats, I delivered about 100 programs to children all over Connecticut. Currently I have Poppy, a Big Brown Bat; Sonic, a Little Brown Bat; and Babs and Tutti, the Egyptian Fruit Bats. My African Gray Parrot is named Kya.

Do you do programs for the public about bats? 

The Bat Lady: Yes, I do as many programs as I can squeeze into my very busy schedule. I can be emailed at: batlady@earthlink.net  


MORE ABOUT BATS {Hoary Bat}

Big Brown Bat
A  coloring page for one of Connecticut's most common bats.

True Facts about Bats
 Batty About Bats Kids Page by the DEP's Wildlife Division.

More Bat Info
For more information about  Connecticut's bats, including how to make a bat house for your yard, the DEP's Wildlife Division provides a great number of facts and good ideas.

Special Bats
Connecticut has eight different types of bats that live here. Three bats are listed as being of "Special Concern."  This means their populations are very low and the Department of Environmental Protection is working to protect them.  They are the Silver-haired bat, the Red bat, and the Hoary bat.  Connecticut has one "Endangered" bat, the Indiana bat, which is in danger of becoming extinct.

Found a Bat?
If you find a juvenile bat or injured bat, please tell an adult.  Do not go near the bat.  Since it is scared and hurt, it is more likely to bite to protect itself.  For advice, you can contact with the nearest  DEP Wildlife Division office near you or try calling an authorized  bat rehabilitator.

 




Content Last Modified on 3/16/2007 9:02:43 AM