Voronezh biologist Yelena Sherstyanykh has an unusual hobby – she nurses weakened bats. Animals are brought by the Voronezh citizens, who learn about the unique shelter from Yelena’s page in a social network. RIA “Voronezh” correspondents visited the shelter and found out what benefits the little animals bring to people, what makes them kin to dogs and why it is extremely difficult to feed them.
Hush – the bats!
Nothing in the bat shelter reminds of bats, it is an ordinary apartment. Nobody is hanging on the ceiling upside down, rushes into your hair. However, there are three refrigerators in one of the rooms. The bats winter in them in hibernation.
The animals are looked after by biologist Yelena Sherstyanykh, the founder of Russia’s only volunteer movement that protects bats. The girl graduated from the Department of Zoology and Parasitology, Medical and Biological Faculty, the Voronezh State University. When she was a student she wrote term papers about ticks, gradually moved to the study of one of the types of bats – great bats. Her master’s thesis was about them.
– When I began to study great bats, I came to the conclusion that there was practically no information on them, and very little research was conducted. What does the person who finds a bat do? He or she serfs the net and reads tips. But they are not about how to save its life, but rather how to kill it. Some people write that bats eat fruits, others – that they drink milk. There is no correct information. On the other hand, bats are not accepted in zoos. In short, there is no place to take them, Yelena sighs.
Now Yelena works as a marketing expert, engineer and SEO specialist, but she has not lost her scientific interest in bats.
Just like hamsters
After making sure that the zoos do not accept bats, Yelena opened “Bats. Voronezh” community in VKontakte, where she placed an announcement about taking the animals and engaging volunteers. Yelena’s volunteer movement has not been named so far, but this year she plans to establish a non-profit public organization.
At first, the biologist nursed the animals at home. There were about 15 of them. Now there are about 250 of them, and the volunteer movement has its own temporary office.
In the autumn of 2018 during the repair of a hospital in Voronezh, builders found about 400 bats hibernating. Some of them died during transportation: 230 species were rescued. The girl remembers: when the flock was transported, hundreds of disturbed bats made a deafening squeak. The rest of the bats were brought to the biologist by the townspeople during the winter thaws: the animals wake up, taking the thaw for the spring.
Now the phone number of the potential guardian for the bats can be found not only on the page in the social network – Yelena’s contacts are given at the EMERCOM and Rospotrebnadzor.
–- Once a girl called at one o’clock in the morning. She asked to take the bats that flew into her house. I had to go early in the morning, before work. One bat got stuck between the window casements, and the other six hid in a vase, recalls the biologist.
According to the Voronezh biologist, European scientists are as interested in bats as they are in other mammals, but in Russia bats are not “trendy”.
– It is commonly believed that they are some kind of parasites, although they perform useful functions: they eat-up kilograms of blood-sucking insects and volatiles that destroy agricultural crops. The number of blood-sucking insects and invaders is not controlled at night by anyone but bats. It will be very sad without them, but nobody thinks about it. Many people are afraid of bats: it seems that they are about to attack and bite. But when people come here, they see that, in principle, it's like a hamster – cute and fluffy, Yelena Sherstyanykh says.
Recently she went to the Moscow Zoo, where the Centre for the Study of Chiropterous Animals was opened.
– Earlier in Moscow, Yevgeniya Kozhurina used to take bats for rehabilitation, but unfortunately, a few years ago she died. This was the impetus for the opening of the Rehabilitation Centre in the zoo, explained Yelena Sherstyanikh.
The resident of Voronezh shared her experience in animal care with her colleagues in the capital. By the way, there are much fewer of them in the Moscow Zoo, only 100, so their living conditions are more comfortable.
Kuhl’s flitter-mouse and yappy brown bats
Yelena has such bats as the particolored bat, the great bat, the brown bat and a Mediterranean Kuhl’s flitter-mouse.
– We were given one flitter-mouse at the New Year. He was called Kolya. Flitter-mice are the smallest, we call them bumblebees. If they fly away, they are very hard to catch. And most of the time we get brown bats (Eptesicus serotinus) – they are the most common in the Voronezh Region, says the girl.
Each type of bats has its own habits. For example, great bats are forest dwellers. They are calm and phlegmatic, while brown bats, on the contrary, are hyperactive, and their habits are similar to those of dogs. As soon as they are stroked against the hair, the little predators expose their teeth and begin to “yawn” with a high, squeaky voice.
Bats can be trained. For example, to teach eating out of a bowl or fly up to a person who usually feeds them. There are cases of training Egyptian fruit Bats, which are considered smarter than dogs. However, there are no such in Russia.
According to Yelena Sherstyanykh, bats will not be able to become pets as they need special conditions. So, bats need to fly freely. They will not be trained to use a litter box. The master of the bat should be ready for the animal to defecate in the air.
Feeding the winged pets is a big problem, because bat food is not produced, except for canned crickets, manufactured for hedgehogs.
Yelena feeds her pets with larvae of Zophobas morio and crickets. A hard-to-find treat for bats is cockroaches. However, the numerous red insects living in apartment buildings are not suitable as they can be poisoned. Therefore, she has to buy marble and Turkmen cockroaches.
– Bats have an excellent appetite. They eat up to a third of their body weight in a day (they weigh 30-40 g). Therefore, a lot of insects are needed, and they should be forage. They are not sold in pet shops or, if sold at retail, they are very expensive: for example, one larvae and one cockroach cost 2 rubles each. One meal for our bats is 10 insects. It’s cheaper to buy larvae wholesale in Moscow, says Yelena Sherstyanikh.
The girl and her assistants have recently started to grow “pasture food” for the animals. They breed larvae of Zophobas morio, marble cockroaches and a special kind of calcium-rich flies on their home mini-farm. However, it also takes time. The shelter will be able to provide their bats with its food only by the next winter.
Tired little bats are sleeping
Most of Elena's bats are now in artificial hibernation. Common noctules sleep in two refrigerators, late parti-colored bats and little pipistrelles sleep in the third one. Instead of beds, they have bags, plastic containers with holes and flat boxes. Two animals sleep in each box. The start dates of artificial hibernation are written on the bat houses.
Every two or three weeks, the bats should be checked and, if necessary (if the bat is very thin), be fed. Otherwise, the hungry animal will wake up and start waking the others. Then you’ll have to feed all.
After feeding, bats need a day to digest food. They are transferred to the balcony, where the temperature is +15 degrees. Then they are put back into the fridge.
In the wild, hibernating animals do not eat. They hibernate by burrowing themselves in the hollows. But massive deforestation forces animals to huddle closer to people - they hide in the gaps between the ceilings of houses, fly into the attics. For wintering, the temperature should be above zero, ideally + 4, +6 degrees. The air must be humid. If a bat winters in an office building where the air is dry, its membranes will dry out. This may cause the animal’s bones to deform, and then it will not be able to fly.
– In the wild, bats sleep from the onset of cold weather until spring. During wintering, they accumulate fat, they slow down all life processes, and their body temperature drops to the temperature of the environment. During hibernation in the wild, bats cannot wake up - the more often they wake up, the less likely they are to make it to spring. The point is that they need to spend a lot of energy to warm up the body (which is +30 degrees) and search for food, but during winter there isn’t any, – Yelena Sherstyanykh explains.
Winters have been warm lately. During the thaw, the animals wake up. That’s how they get to Yelena - they are brought by people.
By the way, there are types of bats that do not hibernate but fly away to warm countries, like birds. And there are those who can either winter or fly away to the south - depends on their mood.
Unlike many other mammals, bats give birth to only one baby per year, less often two. While the young ones are growing up, their mother flies with them, attaching them to herself under her wings. They become adults within a month.
The bat colony is a kindergarten: mothers-bats sometimes feed someone else’s youngsters. There are colonies in which there are no males - only females. But in the Voronezh colony settled in the shelter, males predominate.
– Female bats are able to hold back sperm when mating. And in the spring, when suitable conditions come, they decide to fertilize, – Yelena Sherstyanykh notes.
Yelena will traditionally release her bats in the spring. On the wings of each bat released into the wild, there will be special rings indicating their sequence numbers and information about their homeland (Russia). Animals are ringed for research purposes – to study the migration and age of animals.
It seems that after the winged pets fly away, Yelena Sherstyanykh should be able to rest. But in the summer, the girl will have new worries – the abandoned babies lost by their mothers during the flight. Sometimes little bats fall trying to learn how to fly. In the wild, they would die, but thanks to the volunteers they have a chance.
Babies in the size of seed are fed in droplets with heated up fat village milk, preferably goat milk. According to Yelena, the babies are so small that their vessels and the distended tummies are visible.
– It is difficult to foster babies. They need to be fed a drop of milk often. They grow up quickly, in a month, but it will seem like an eternity, – the bat nurse admits.
Myths about bats
When meeting a bat for the first time, many are horrified thinking that bats carry rabies. According to Yelena, for 50 years in the territory of the former USSR, there were only two cases of bats having rabies. Compared to foxes, 70% of which in our area are infected with rabies, this is a drop in the ocean. But if a bat has actually bitten you, contact the emergency room.
Another myth is that bats allegedly attack humans. According to Yelena, animals can often fly near a person when chasing mosquitoes and accidentally get tangled in the hair.
– Ultrasound does not always "see" an obstacle in the form of hair. Sometimes a bat can fly past a girl with her hair loose and accidentally cling to it, – the biologist explains.
An animal can bite only if you squeeze it and hurt it. In this case, it is protecting itself. Therefore, taking animals with bare hands is not recommended - it is better to use gloves or cloth.
Where does the myth about bats feeding on blood originate from? In South America, there are three types of vampire bats that really do drink the blood of livestock and birds. But in Russia, there is no such thing.
What do you do if you find a bat
If a bat flies into an apartment or office during the warm season, set the animal free. If the temperature outside is below zero, you can’t do this - the animal will not be able to find shelter and will die. It is best to hand the animal over to specialists. For the contacts of volunteers from Bats. Voronezh group, click here
. Yelena Sherstyanykh’s phone number is 8 920 226 95 74.
If a mouse is flying around the room, wait until it sits on any surface. Under no circumstances, do not try to bring the animal down: this way you can cripple it.
When the bat lands, calmly approach it and, wearing thick gloves, carefully put it in a cardboard shoe box. If the animal is sitting on the wall, cover it with a box, and then take a flat piece of cardboard and stick it between the box and the wall. Then, holding the cardboard, gently turn the box over - the bat will be inside.
It is better not to open the cover. Wrap the box with scotch tape - nimble bats love running away, especially from flimsy boxes. It is not necessary to make holes for ventilation in a cardboard box - it is a breathing material. In case of a plastic container, it is important to make holes.
Do not try to feed the animals. It is unlikely that you have insects. Bats will not eat apples and maggots from fishing stores.