When there’s an emergency in Shelburne, people know that if they call 911, the fire department will come.
A little brown bat in distress skipped the middleman last week and showed up at the fire station needing some assistance.
Shelburne Fire Department Deputy Chief John Goodrich arrived at work at 8 a.m. last Wednesday to find a furry friend clinging right next to the station’s front door. Since little brown bats don’t usually hang out with firefighters during the day, Goodrich said, “I wanted to make sure he was okay.”
A call to Barry Genzingler from the Vermont Bat Center, who is the father of one of Goodrich’s colleagues at the South Burlington Fire Department, helped him figure out what to do next.
Genzingler who cautions regular citizens to “Never pick up a bat,” instructed Goodrich to wrap the bat in a clean towel and keep it secure until it could be brought to the Bat Center for help.
Not one to get the heebie-jeebies over a bat, Goodrich put on gloves and carefully removed the bat from its perch and placed it in a box.
“He was perfect until I went to touch him, and then he squealed a little bit,” Goodrich said.
Genzingler said there are nine bat species in Vermont, and five of them are endangered or threatened.
The fire station bat was a juvenile little brown bat, one of the endangered species. These bats hibernate in caves during the winter months. A fungus called white nose fungus, Genzingler said, “thrives in cool damp places like caves. The bats hibernate in caves. The fungus gets on the bats and makes them itch, which wakes them up many times during the winter when they should be sleeping. By February they have burned up their stored fat and their body says it must be spring. Many will fly out of the caves in the middle of February and freeze to death.”
Ten years ago, juvenile little brown bats were the most plentiful bat in North America; millions have since died from the white nose fungus.
Goodrich knew that little brown bats need special care and he said he wasn’t scared to handle the bat as instructed.
It’s normal at this time of year for young bats to be confused as they develop their navigation skills, like a teenager with a new driver’s license trying to manage driving and navigating at the same time. It’s easy to end up lost and confused, Genzingler explained.
This juvenile, Genzingler said, “was hungry and thirsty and was a bit confused, as it was out on its first flights.”
The Vermont Bat Center gave the bat a physical, some water and food and a rabies vaccination, and released it on Sunday behind the fire station.
Goodrich said he was glad the bat was okay and happy to help out. “It was the right thing to do to protect an endangered species,” he said.
However, Genzingler cautions folks who may find a bat somewhere it’s not supposed to be at a time it’s not supposed to be there, to not pick up the bat and to instead call for help. The Vermont Bat Center and Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife are two places to call.