MONTPELIER, Vt. — Bats swoop through the halls of Vermont’s grand State House, and nobody seems to mind.
Workers say it’s not uncommon to see the furry, bug-eating bats flying around, especially during the summer months when they seek cooler, air-conditioned hallways.
Vermont State Curator David Schutz, who is charged with overseeing the restoration, care and conservation of the gold-domed, 155-year-old State House, says he’s lost count of the number of bats he’s seen.
“Good lord,” he exclaimed. “Over the 30-some years that I’ve been here? A lot of bats.”
The bats are coming out of a cavernous attic in the State House that officials haven’t tried to seal up, according to Schutz.
“I am very pro-bat because, of course, we’re losing them,” he said.
Bats have been dying of white nose syndrome, a scourge caused by a fungus that has devastated bat populations by disrupting their hibernation and leading to starvation and dehydration. Officials say the syndrome has killed more than 5.5 million bats across the Northeast and Canada.
Right before a recent ceremony in the Cedar Creek Room, a bat swooped in, dived past the huge mural commemorating a Civil War battle and headed for the Senate chamber. Capitol Police Officer Dale Manning, who’s been at the State House for nearly 11 years, says the strategy for dealing with the bats is simple: In the Senate case, they just closed the doors, opened the windows from the outside and let the bat fly out on its own. Sometimes it takes a few minutes and, sometimes, a few hours.
“There is a large population out there in the public who like bats and enjoy their presence,” said Jeremy Coleman, the white nose coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It’s refreshing when you find people who appreciate them.”
However, Coleman emphasized that living with bats can be dangerous.
Those who come into close contact with bats should be observant and careful. Bats can carry rabies, a fatal virus that causes inflammation of the brain.
Only about 1 percent of wild bats carry the virus, according to Alyssa Bennett, Vermont state small mammals biologist. However, it’s not always apparent if a bat has rabies and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges homeowners to bat-proof their homes. If people awakes with a bat in their bedroom or find a bat near unattended children or a person with a disability, the CDC urges post-exposure vaccination to prevent rabies if the bat cannot be captured and tested.
Bats can also carry deadly diseases, like histoplasmosis — a lung infection that can be caused by breathing bat guano. Although they haven’t found any large deposits at the State House, workers doing an insulation project are on the lookout and will clean up if they find any.
“Just having a bat fly inside of a space is not really a concern at all,” Bennett said.
And Capitol police are utilizing the best practices to remove the bats when needed, such as using gloves and limiting physical handling.
“They’re protecting themselves and also protecting the wildlife,” Bennett said.
Capitol police say they will keep dealing with the bats on a case-by-case basis.
“People come here and say how open the building is,” Manning said. “Bats flying around while you’re doing business is just kind of a rural, fun thing.”
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