It’s not like they meant to kill her. But sometimes good guys are killed by good guys through nothing more complicated than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s how friendly fire works.
Driving home one Saturday night last November, my parents wended their way along the narrow county road that links the two-lane state highway to the private road leading to our farm. This small thoroughfare cuts through East Texas woods for miles, close-in woods making it a tunnel more than anything else.
With so much nature to either side, seeing wildlife on the road isn’t too surprising. Bobcats, deer, opossums, skunks, birds galore … Even the occasional cougar if you’re lucky. Yes, this little bumpy ribbon of civilization affords drivers the opportunity to play obstacle course with whatever critters don’t move fast enough—though most get out of the way quickly because these are the wilds where wildlife don’t wait around very long to see if you’re friend or foe.
So as Mom and Dad drove through the woods heading for home, something swooped out of the darkness and hit the front of the truck. Nothing big, not like a wild boar or a deer, but instead something on wings, something swooping through the headlights’ illumination, something quick and fleeting and … and impacted.
Mom feared what it might be, suspected, worried. But until they arrived home, there was nothing she could do, no way to check.
So they drove on, kept moving, made it home safely. What didn’t make it home safely, though, was found caught in the truck’s grill.
The next morning Mom asked me to identify it for her.
A female eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis). Given the time of year, the tragedy is amplified by my suspicion that she was pregnant.
Mom was quite upset given her fondness for and fascination by bats, not to mention her proclivity towards environmentalism and protection of wildlife. Less specifically, she knows bats provide a needful service—consumption of insects in large volumes—so even a single unnecessary death makes a difference.
So delicate a thing, this flying mammal, with her wings as thin as paper and seemingly fragile.
And so light a creature, so small, barely felt when held.
Though we see bats regularly, even throughout winter if the weather is mild, holding this dead female made them more real somehow, as though the shadowy secrets of the night had been revealed at last, albeit only via the hand of death.
Yes, friendly fire sucks, and some secrets the night should be allowed to keep.
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Though the frosting on her fur might make some think of white nose syndrome, that is in fact her normal hair color. Males of the species lack the white tips.
And speaking of white nose syndrome, I see there are suspected cases as far west as Oklahoma and confirmed cases as far south as Alabama. This disease has decimated bat populations from southeastern Canada through the northeastern US, and its anguishing spread south and west continues unabated. It hasn’t reached Texas yet—the operative word being yet—but no one should be shocked when and if it finally makes its way to the Lone Star State.
For those who enjoy spelunking or cave exploration or any other activity that might bring you into contact with roosting bats, you should read up on this terrible epidemic and do everything you can to ensure you don’t help it spread. The National Speleological Society maintains a dedicated page to guide you through what’s necessary to make sure you don’t help the disease more to new territory. Trust me: Bats are worth the attention and effort.