Finding the beauty in bats

By Pamela H. Sacks

TELEGRAM & GAZETTE

2007

Tammy Fleming Maus is a seasoned observer of little brown bats.

Think you’d prefer another pastime? It’s a safe bet Fleming Maus could persuade you to join her.
For the past two years, Fleming Maus, a natural history guide and program coordinator at Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester, has led groups of curious people on summertime outings to observe the brown bats at Moore State Park in Paxton. A colony of several hundred makes its warm-weather home in a shed near Eames Pond.
Fleming Maus and her group tiptoe into the area five or six at a time because the bats are very sensitive. At dusk, the tiny creatures trickle out of the shed to feed on mosquitoes and other insects near the water. The people lucky enough to be standing in just the right location can see the dark silhouettes in flight against the blue sky.
“It is magical, and it’s really difficult to contain our excitement,” Fleming Maus said. “I get just as excited as the first time I did it.”
Fleming Maus already is anticipating this year’s outing, from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday. Participants will view a short video and engage in activities and games. At about 8:30 p.m., everyone will walk to the bat colony.
Truth be told, bats have an unsavory reputation. Fleming Maus doesn’t take long to punch holes in all sorts of false impressions.
For instance, bats are not blind; they just don’t see as well at night. And they don’t get tangled in people’s hair. Their biological sonar, known as echolocation, keeps them from flying into humans. They emit calls and listen to the echoes that return from objects in the environment. That’s how they navigate and hunt.
And the little brown bat – with a wingspan of 10 inches and the weight of a pencil – definitely does not suck blood, Fleming Maus said. Only one variety, a vampire bat found in Central and South America, feeds on warmed-blooded animals, such as cows, horses and goats.
Little brown bats are out and about at dawn and dusk, doing most of their feeding in the evening. They hang around ponds, lakes and woodlands, where insects are in abundance.
Bats, by the way, are not rodents, even though they look like flying mice. The females live in colonies that number a few hundred to several thousand. The Paxton bats hibernate in a cave in Western Massachusetts and return to Moore State Park in April or May. They have their pups – usually one per mother – in mid June.
“They are terrific mothers,” Fleming Maus said, explaining that the mothers leave their newborns inside the shed and fly out to get food and bring it back. “You could have several hundred pups calling out in hunger. A mother knows by sense and call which pup is hers.”
And the males? They do not go into the maternity shed. But they are usually close by, under the bark of surrounding trees or in nearby barns or attics. Sometimes, the males gather in their own bachelor colonies.
Fleming Maus, who lives in Leicester, grew up camping and has always loved the outdoors.
“My dad was a really great hunter,” she said. “I like taking photographs.”
Over the last several years, Fleming Maus has “adopted” the Massachusetts Aubudon Society’s Burncoat Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, which is on the Leicester-Spencer line. She raised money to purchase a key 50 acres at the southwest end of the pond and is continuing her fund-raising efforts to cut additional trails through the property, set up kiosks and put in a parking lot.
“I only learned about the sanctuary four years ago,” she said. “It’s been my passion to make sure that other people know about it.”