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Bats in the belfry (or in the house)


September 6, 2012

A bat, the only mammal capable of sustained flight, invokes many things to many people. Many fictional books and movies have maligned bats as evil creatures to be feared, and many of us have an underlying fear of bats when we encounter them. The truth is that the only thing that needs to fear a bat in our region is a mosquito: a bat can eat up to 50% of its body weight in mosquitoes and other flying insects per evening. It turns out that a bat is a highly beneficial critter that has picked up a bum rap.

Bats forage at night and roost during the day. Some of their roosting areas include hollow trees, voids under tree bark, and barns and attics. Because of this last roost favorite, bats and people sometimes have unwanted encounters with each other when bats find their way into living areas of homes.

A neighbor recently called and said that there was a bat in her house. I got a pair of heavy leather gloves and paid a visit. I found a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) between a window and a screen on the front porch. My neighbor did the right thing and closed the door between the porch and the rest of the house. The screen was nailed to the window frame and couldn’t be opened, but I was able to use a drinking cup to trap the bat against the screen and, using a piece of cardboard as a cover, I carried the bat in the cup outdoors and released it.

If you find a bat in your home, above all, avoid handling it: a small percentage of bats carry the rabies virus that can be transmitted by a bite from a bat that is handled. Isolate it by closing doors to the rest of the house and open a window. The bat will eventually find its way out. Keeping bats from returning is a matter of sealing or meshing openings between the attic and the living area. Excluding bats from the attic can be a little trickier; if you seal or install grids in openings when bats are roosting, those bats will eventually starve from not being able to leave and forage at night. Timing is everything with bat exclusion work, and it is best to consult a professional wildlife control expert for a “bat friendly” remedy.

Bats are facing a serious threat from White Nose Syndrome, a fungus that is causing significant mortality in bat hibernacula caves. Why not give the bats a helping hand and keep a few out of the attic at the same time by building a bat house? Here is a link on how to do it: www.dec.ny.gov/docs/administration_pdf/batbox.pdf.