Eastern Red Bat
Riverdave’s Journal
This essay appeared in Eno River Currents, Summer 2003

Bats are the most numerous group of mammals present along the Eno River.  Of the several species of bats that occur here, the eastern red bat is probably the most common and definitely the easiest to identify. Seen in flight over the river after sun-
down in the warm season, this four inch bat with a mottled, rusty red to orange color is easily discernible in the evening afterglow. It zigzags and swoops overhead feeding on moths and other airborne insects.

The red bat is a tree roosting bat in contrast to cave roosters which compose the majority of bat species in our region. When roosting, they hang upside down on a twig, cryptically disguised as dead leaves, dried fruit or cones.  In winter they hibernate in the same position on the south facing side of a tree and reduce their metabolism to a fraction of normal. The red bat has a heavy furry tail that it wraps along the underside of its body to maintain its warmth.

I had my first up close experience with this bat on a local winter hike.  I came to rest leaning on the trunk of a large beech tree, whose lower branches retained their light brown, dead leaves throughout the winter. I noticed a fuzzy red patch dangling on the back side of one leaf in front of me. A closer examination revealed a red bat curled up and motionless. It was well camouflaged against the back drop of the beech leaves. Only by my chance close proximity did I detect its presence.

Red bats live a solitary life except when mating or migrating.  In the cold season they do head south along the eastern seaboard of the United States, but their patterns of movement are not yet understood. Up until the late 1800s, sightings of large migratory flocks passing over areas of the southeastern US were reported. No such occurrence has been confirmed since then, but numerous individuals continue to make the Eno River Valley their home.

 One evening I was attending a football game at Jordan High School where my daughters were cheerleaders. Seemingly out of nowhere, dark winged creatures came careening down from the night sky, passing and squeaking just above the heads of students and parents sitting in the rows of bleachers. Everyone seemed to shudder at the ominous sight and the crowd emitted a huge gasp in unison. Several frightened teenagers, shielding their faces with raised forearms, shouted "Bats, bats!" I smiled to myself, in awe at the consternation a flock of harmless chimney swifts could cause among the fearful.

Because bats are creatures of the ensuing twilight, we often transfer our own fear of the dark onto these most innocent and beneficent creatures. And of course, our discomfort with darkness is none other than a fear of facing our own musty inner closets and shortcomings. If our lives are closely interwoven with the fabric of nature, animal encounters on our path can both challenge and shape our personal growth.

In 1990, I took my first group of ecotourists to a jungle lodge in the upper Amazon River in eastern Peru. On the very first evening, I woke up after midnight hearing a scraping sound on my wooden bed frame next to the floor.  I pulled out a flash light from my sleeping bag and shined it down on a vampire bat that was apparently trying to force its way under the mosquito netting that was draped over my bed! But that wildlife encounter turned out to be just the beginning of a long series of opportunities that the Amazon provided, in order for me to face my own inner fears that were far removed from the threat of that particular sanguivore. Likewise, our heartfelt thanks go out to the red bat this year for being willing to fly high on our Eno River Festival banner, and for all the insight it offers to inspire in each of us.

Image: 2003 Festival for the Eno logo by Emma Skurnick: Eastern Red Bat