|The Burgess Animal Book for Children|
|by Thornton Burgess|
|To answer Peter Rabbit’s questions about his relatives, Old Mother Nature holds a school for the animals every day at sun-up for a month. Encouraging the animals to notice the differences between them and to offer their observa-tions of animal behavior, Old Mother Nature helps them all gain a greater understanding of the mammals of North America. Starting with the animals close to home, the school moves in ever-widening circles to encompass the animals of the far west and the extreme north, as well. A fine introduction to mammals for students in the primary grades. Ages 6-9 |
FLITTER THE BAT AND HIS FAMILY
 IN the dusk of early evening, as Peter Rabbit sat trying to make
up his mind whether to spend that night at home in the dear Old
Briar-patch with timid little Mrs. Peter or go over to the Green
Forest in search of adventure, a very fine, squeaky voice which
came right out of the air above him startled him for a moment.
"Better stay at home, Peter Rabbit. Better stay at home to-night,"
said the thin, squeaky voice.
"Hello, Flitter!" exclaimed Peter, as he stared up at a little
dark form darting this way, twisting that way, now up, now down,
almost brushing Peter's head and then flying so high he could
hardly be seen. "Why should I stay at home?"
"Because I saw Old Man Coyote sneaking along the edge of the Green
Forest, Reddy Fox is hunting on the Green Meadows, and Hooty the
 on watch in the Old Orchard," replied Flitter the Red Bat.
"Of course it is no business of mine what you do, Peter Rabbit, but
were I in your place I certainly would stay at home. Gracious!
I'm glad I can go where I please when I please. You ought to fly,
Peter. You ought to fly. There is nothing like it."
"I wish I could," sighed Peter.
"Well, don't say I didn't warn you," squeaked Flitter, and darted
away in the direction of Farmer Brown's house. Peter wisely
decided that the dear Old Briar-patch was the best place for him
that night, so he remained at home, to the joy of timid little
Mrs. Peter, and spent the night eating, dozing and wondering how
it would seem to be able to fly like Flitter the Bat.
Flitter was still in his mind when he started for school the next
morning, and by the time he got there he was bubbling over with
curiosity and questions. He could hardly wait for school to be
called to order. Old Mother Nature noticed how fidgety he was.
"What have you on your mind, Peter?" she asked.
"Didn't you tell us that the Shrew family and the Mole family are
the only families in this country in the order of insect-eaters?"
 "I certainly did," was the prompt reply. "Doesn't Flitter the Bat
live on insects?" asked Peter.
Old Mother Nature nodded. "He does," said she. "In fact he lives
altogether on insects."
"Then why isn't he a member of that order?" demanded Peter.
Old Mother Nature smiled, for she was pleased that Peter had thought
of this. "That question does you credit, Peter," said she. "The
reason is that he and his relatives are so very different from other
animals that they have been placed in an order of their own. It is
called the Chi-rop-ter-a, which means wing-handed. How many of you
know Flitter the Bat?"
"I've often seen him," declared Jumper the Hare.
"So have I," said Chatterer the Red Squirrel. Each of the others
said the same thing. There wasn't one who hadn't watched and
envied Flitter darting about in the air just at dusk of early
evening or as the Black Shadows were stealing away in the early
morning. Old Mother Nature smiled.
"Seeing him isn't knowing him," said she. "Who is there who knows
anything about him and his ways save that he flies at night and
catches insects in the air?"
 She waited a minute or two, but no one spoke. The fact is there
was not one who really knew anything about Flitter. "It is one of
the strange things of life," said she, "that people often know
nothing about the neighbors whom they see every day. But in this
case it is not to be wondered at. I suspect none of you has seen
Flitter, excepting in the air, and then he moves so rapidly that
there is no chance to get a good look at him. I think this is
just the time and place for you to really make the acquaintance
of Flitter the Red Bat."
She stepped over to a bush and parted the leaves. Hanging from
a twig was what appeared at first glance to be a rumpled, reddish-brown
dead leaf. She touched it lightly. At once it came to life,
stirring uneasily. A thin, squeaky voice peevishly demanded to
know what was wanted.
"You have some callers, a few of your friends who want to get
really acquainted with you. Suppose you wake up for a few minutes,"
explained Old Mother Nature pleasantly.
Flitter, for that is just who it was, yawned once or twice sleepily,
shook himself, then grinned down at the wondering faces of his
friends crowded about just under him. "Hello, folks," said he in
that thin, squeaky voice of his.
 The sunlight fell full on him, but he seemed not to mind it in the
least. In fact, he appeared to enjoy its warmth. He was hanging
by his toes, head down, his wings folded. He was about four inches
long, and his body was much like that of a Mouse. His fur was
fine and thick, a beautiful orange-red. For his size his ears were
large. Instead of the long head and sharp nose of the Mouse family,
Flitter had a rather round head and blunt nose. Almost at once Peter
Rabbit made a discovery. It was that Flitter possessed a pair of
bright, little, snapping eyes and didn't seem in the least bothered
by the bright light.
This is the Red Bat, also called Tree Bat.
"Where did that saying 'blind as a Bat' ever come from?"
Old Mother Nature laughed. "Goodness knows; I don't," said she.
"There is nothing blind about Flitter. He sleeps through the
day and does his hunting in the dusk of evening or early morning,
but if he is disturbed and has to fly during the day, he has no
trouble in seeing. Flitter, stretch out one of your wings so
that everybody can see it."
Obediently Flitter stretched out one of his wings. Everybody
gasped, for it was the first time any of them ever had seen one
of those wings near enough to know just what it was like.
Flitter's arm was long, especially from his elbow to
 his hand.
But the surprising thing was the length of his three fingers.
Each finger appeared to be about as long as the whole arm. From
his shoulder a thin, rubbery skin was stretched to the ends of
the long fingers, then across to the ankle of his hind foot on
that side, and from there across to the tip of his tail. A
little short thumb with a long, curved claw stuck up free from
the edge of the wing.
"Now you can see just why he is called winghanded," explained Old
Mother Nature, as Flitter folded the wing. In a minute he began
to clean it. Everybody laughed, for it was funny to watch him.
He would take the skin of the wing in his mouth and pull and stretch
it as if it were rubber. He washed it with his tiny tongue. Then
he washed his fur. You see, Flitter is very neat. With the little
claw of his thumb he scratched his head and combed his hair. All
the time he remained hanging head down, clinging to the twig with
"Where is Mrs. Flitter?" asked Old Mother Nature.
"Don't know," replied Flitter, beginning on the other wing. "She's
quite equal to looking after herself, so I don't worry about her."
"Nor about your babies. Flitter, I'm ashamed of you. You are a
poor kind of father,"
de-  clared Old Mother Nature severely. "If
you don't know where to find your family, I'll show you."
She stepped over to the very next tree, parted the leaves, and
there, sure enough, hung Mrs. Flitter fast asleep. And clinging
to her were three of the funniest babies in all the Great World!
All were asleep, and Old Mother Nature didn't awaken them. As for
Flitter, he seemed to take not the slightest interest in his
family, but went right on with his toilet.
"Flitter the Red Bat is one of the best known of the whole family
in this country," said Old Mother Nature, as they left Flitter to
resume his nap. He is found from the East to the Far West, from
ocean to ocean. Like the birds, he migrates when cold weather
comes, returning in the early summer. Although, like all Bats,
he sleeps all day as a rule, he doesn't mind the sunlight, as you
have just seen for yourselves. Sometimes on dull, dark days he
doesn't wait for evening, but flies in the afternoon. Usually he
is the first of the Bat family to appear in the evening, often coming
out while it is still light enough to show the color of his red coat.
No other member of his family has a coat of this color.
"Some people call him the Tree Bat. After seeing him hanging over
there I think you can
 guess why. He rarely goes to a cave for his
daytime sleep, as most of his relatives do, but hangs by his toes
from a twig of a tree or bush, frequently not far from the ground,
just as he is right now.
"As all of you who have watched him know, Flitter is a swift flier.
This is because his wings are long and narrow. They are made for
speed. I want you to know that the Bats are among the most
wonderful of all my little people. Few if any birds can equal them
in the air because of their wonderful ability to twist and turn.
They are masters of the art of flying. Moreover, they make no
sound with their wings, something which only the Owls among birds
can boast of.
"You all saw the three babies clinging to Mrs. Flitter. Most Bats
have but two babies at a time, occasionally only one, but the Red
Bat and his larger cousin, the Hoary Bat, have three or four. Mrs.
Flitter carries her babies about with her until they are quite big.
When they are too large to be carried she leaves them hanging in a
tree while she hunts for her meals.
"Flitter has many cousins. One of these is the Little Brown Bat,
one of the smallest members of the family and found all over the
country. He is brown all over. He is sometimes called the Cave
Bat, because whenever a cave is to be
 found he sleeps there.
Sometimes great numbers of these little Bats are found crowded
together in a big cave. When there is no cave handy, a barn or
hollow tree is used. Often he will creep behind the closed
blinds of a house to spend the day.
He is about to catch a fly on
the surface of the water.
"Very like this little fellow in color is his cousin the Big Brown
Bat, called the House Bat and the Carolina Bat. He is especially
fond of the homes of men. He is a little bigger than the Red Bat.
While the latter is one of the first Bats to appear in the evening,
the former is one of the last, coming out only when it is quite
dark. He also is found all over the country.
"The Silvery Bat is of nearly the same size and in many places is
more common than any of its cousins. The fur is dark brown or black
with white tips, especially in the young. From this it gets its
name. One of the largest and handsomest of the Bat cousins, and
one of the rarest is the Hoary Bat. His fur is a mixture of dark
and light brown tipped with white. He is very handsome. His
wings are very long and narrow and he is one of the most wonderful
of all fliers. He is a lover of the Green Forest and does his
hunting high above the tree-tops, making his appearance late in
the evening. Like the Red Bat he spends the hours of daylight
hanging in a tree.
 "Down in the Southeast is a member of the family with ears so big
that he is called the Big-eared Bat. He is a little chap, smaller
than Little Brown Bat, and his ears are half as long as his head and
body together. What do you think of that? For his size he has
the biggest ears of any animal in all this great country. A
relative in the Southwest is the Big-eared Bat.
"All members of the Bat family are drinkers and usually the first
thing they do when they start out at dusk is to seek water. All
live wholly on insects, and for this reason they are among the very
best friends of man. They eat great numbers of Mosquitoes. They do
no harm whatever, which is more than can be said for some of the
rest of you little folks. Now who shall we learn about next?"
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