Bats get a bad rap
One summer years ago, when sisters, in-laws and various relations were visiting, something flew into my daughter’s room in the middle of the night.
We noticed something was up when the light went on and we heard my daughter, who was maybe 7 at the time, was telling her 12-year-old cousin not to worry. “I think it’s a big moth,” she said.
“You’re right,” the 12-year-old said. “It’s a moth. That’s what I thought.”
My husband and I assessed the situation, then did what we always do when a bat flies into the house on a summer night. We opened the hatch to the attic, turned on the light up there and opened the two attic windows.
Within 15 minutes the bat was out of the house and the kids were sleeping again.
The next morning my daughter confided to me that she knew all along it was a bat but didn’t want to alarm her Philadelphia cousin. “She’s not from the country, you know,” she said.
The cousin, meanwhile, confided to her mom that she knew it was a bat but said it was a moth because she thought my daughter would be scared. “She’s so little,” she told her mom.
We all thought it endearing that the cousins were so solicitous of each other, and no one in my house is particularly frightened of bats, so the little adventure passed.
We enjoy watching the bats outside on a summer night, and appreciate their work in eliminating mosquitoes, black flies and other insects that bother us and our animals. We think it’s nice to see them flying across the stage at SPAC during ballet season, and we like watching them stream out of the abandoned chimney in town on a hot August night.
And sometimes in the summer a bat flies into the house. It’s usually late at night, and we’re careful not to touch it because bats can carry rabies. But we’ve never had one that hasn’t taken advantage of an open window, because it turns out bats don’t want to be inside your house anymore than you want them there.
Usually if a bat flies in, it’s a lone, lost bat. But sometimes they will take up more permanent residence, nesting in your attic, for instance. And if that happens, you’ll want to take action.
The Organization for Bat Conservation has a website with some useful tips for getting resident bats out of your house.
The first thing to do is figure out how the bats are getting in, and that means watching for their patterns at dusk, from the outside of your house. A few evenings of surveillance should give you a good indication of exactly where they’re getting in and out — a broken attic window, a hole in the soffit, a gap in some siding.
Once you figure out where the hole is, you can cover it with mesh, screening or hardware cloth. The trick is to do it in the afternoon, and attach the screening on the top and on two sides, leaving an opening in the bottom for the bats to squeeze through to get out. That way they can push their way to the outside, but are unlikely to find their way back in.
Of course, you could just call an exterminator. But the Organization for Bat Conservation points out that bats are extremely useful animals and works hard to protect them. They suggest that before you try to move a bat family out of your house, you set up a bat house on a tree or a post not far from your house. If you put it up a few days before you begin blocking the bat entrance, they’ll get used to it and hopefully will move in there when they are expelled from your attic.
If you’re not comfortable removing the bats yourself, there are nuisance wildlife professionals who will come and take the bats out — or put up the kinds of barriers just described to let the bats work themselves out of your house. Call around.
Bats have a bad reputation, far worse than they deserve. Fewer than 1 percent have rabies, they can each eat thousands of mosquitoes or similar insects a night, and they don’t fly into your hair. And bats have been severely affected in recent years by white nose syndrome, a fungal disease that weakens and kills hibernating bats. Bat Conservation International estimates that more than 5.7 million bats have been killed by the fungus since 2006.
Why should we care about that? Bat Conservation International sums it up this way: “Bats are essential to the health of our natural world. They help control pests and are vital pollinators and seed-dispersers for countless plants.”
Still, you don’t want them in your house. You don’t want to worry if yours are among the 1 percent with rabies, and you don’t want their guano piling up in the rafters or the attic steps.
Although I’ve heard it makes excellent fertilizer.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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