2022 Year in Review: Elka Hutcheson, Wildlife Rehabilitation Intern

It’s time to look back on 2022! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2022 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

A year of tiny things!

Years in the wildlife rehabilitation field sometimes blend together, and it can be hard to pick out novel things from your year when every day is so crazy and busy. Though it’s my first year here in the rehab internship position, it’s not my first time at the WCV or rehabilitating wildlife. That being said, I feel that this year in particular has been memorable for the fact that we have gotten in so many teeny-tiny patients here at the WCV! Spending the year learning their care has been some of the most fun I’ve had in years.

Of these little patients of 2022 — the baby bats had a very special place in my heart. Mostly we get in Big Brown Bats during the summer and I had gotten used to their care, but I remember being so excited when we got in a very different-looking bat that only weighed (drumroll please) … 1.89 grams! We suspect that it was a juvenile Northern Long Eared Bat. This bat (patient #22-2183) was even smaller than our average baby mice patients (who usually come in around 4 grams). Trying to find a proper syringe small enough to feed this tiny bat was already a challenge. I distinctly remember having to have a feather-light touch when using the feeding syringe to get the smallest drop of formula out for the little bat to lap up with its tongue. I also spent an excruciating amount of time removing the guts from mealworms to feed the bat. Five years ago, if someone asked me what I saw myself doing in the future — skinning and gutting individual mealworms definitely would not have been my answer. But the adorable crunching and squeaking sounds the bat made as it gobbled them up made it all worth it.

Other baby mammals that I had never gotten to work with before were our Southern Flying Squirrels! If you’ve ever seen an adult Southern Flying Squirrel, you already know how cute they are. Imagine one as a baby — it’s absolutely adorable. These guys were so much fun to work with because though they were very tiny, I very quickly learned that they have BIG appetites. Flying squirrels #22-3215 and #22-3216 especially were voracious eaters. It was so much fun to watch them gobble up the thumbnail-sized meals I made for them and suck down syringes full of formula like it was nothing.

 

And then of course, who can forget about our multitude of pint-sized reptiles from this year! Snakes and turtles are born fully functioning, and don’t really need any guidance to start making their way in the world — so their care was a little bit easier than some of the mammals. However, the big challenge was trying to figure out what to feed them! The same foods that we feed the adult reptiles are simply too big for a lot of these babies, so we had to get pretty creative. Our baby Eastern Ratsnakes (patients #3549 and #3470), who are currently over-wintering with us, have been extremely picky! Though usually we would feed whole mice to most snake species, there simply was not anything small enough available for a little snake who only weighs 10 grams! We eventually settled on feeding live earthworms, which are delectable little noodles for these babies to slurp up.

But I think my absolute favorite (and littlest) patient this year is a recent admit, Musk Turtle hatchling #22-3586. This guy is literally smaller than a quarter and weighs only three grams. Trying to find him in his cage to feed him is like a game of hide and seek every day because he can fit in any nook and cranny in the rocks in his enclosure.

Rehabilitating any animal can be challenging, but the finesse it takes to do the same tasks for animals smaller than your pinkie finger is extreme. Working with these patients has really helped me hone my skills – which helps the quality of my patient care with any size animal, really. After you’ve successfully given subcutaneous fluids to a three-gram baby mouse - doing it on a squirrel suddenly doesn’t seem so daunting anymore! I’m looking forward to continuing to work with these animals and future pint-sized patients in the upcoming year!

— Elka Hutcheson, Wildlife Rehabilitation Intern

Check out all of our year-in-review posts!