July and August are the busiest times of the year for me to get calls from panicked homeowners who have found a bat (or bats) inside their house. Why? Because this is the time of year that bat pups are learning to fly, and some are not as skilled in flight as others.
Although bats are one of the most feared creatures on the planet, they are the cornerstone of a healthy environment. Bats have been maligned throughout time simply because of myths and misconceptions. A bat can send a 200-pound person running at marathon speed, even though a bat weighs less than a hamburger.
If you do encounter a flying bat in your house, try to stay calm. Reassure yourself that the bat is also afraid of humans. Resist the urge to chase it or catch it. Never hit a flying bat with an object. Instead, open a window and close the door. (Be sure to remove any pets.). The bat will likely fly outside.
If there are no windows in the room with the bat, allow it to fly until it tires and lands (about 15 minutes). Then, wearing gloves, gently place a container (like a coffee or butter tub) over the bat, and slide a piece of stiff cardboard under it. The bat will likely make “irritation buzzes,” which are audible to the human ear, and it may throw out its wings in fear. This is the part when most folks panic, lose whatever courage they had to approach the bat in the first place, and run at high speed from the terrified and confused little guy. Again, try to stay calm.
Once you have captured the bat, take it outside and place it on an elevated surface like a shed roof. Do not put the bat on flat ground — it will be stuck! Bats need air under their wings to fly, and must drop down in order to take flight upward.
You can also capture a bat that has landed by using a flannel pillowcase. Again, be sure that you are wearing gloves because, like any frightened wild animal, the bat may try to bite. Simply scoop the bat into the fabric, go outside and launch the bat into flight with a gentle shake of the pillowcase.
The most frustrated callers are those who saw a bat but don’t know whether it’s still in the house. Because bats have flexible bones and can fit through a hole the size of a nickel — callers hate it when I tell them this — they can disappear quickly into the tiniest crack. That’s why it is important not to lose sight of the bat when it is first discovered. Try to stay calm!
When I go on a bat search at someone’s home, I always start by looking at high nooks and crannies, such as behind curtains and picture frames. Our local bats are mostly crevice dwellers, and like tight, dark, small spaces. Remember that bats need to be elevated to take off, so looking under the furniture is usually an exercise in futility. Bats that don’t find a way out will die of starvation or dehydration, so don’t stop looking, staying calm, of course.
You cannot contract rabies from being in a room with a bat. Less than half of one percent of bats carry rabies, which is transmitted through saliva. Many publications, and even medical personnel, claim you might not know when you have been bitten by a bat because they have such small, sharp teeth. Don’t believe it. Being bitten by a bat hurts. I know that firsthand!
If a bat is flying inside the room of a sleeping person, a baby or child or someone who is mentally impaired or intoxicated, health officials will recommend a series of rabies-exposure vaccinations. The shots do not hurt more than any other vaccination — again, I speak from experience.
Bats are gentle, intelligent and clean. They eat their weight in mosquitoes as well as other nocturnal pests. (Organic farmers often rely on bats to control insects). Bats are disappearing from the planet faster than any mammal of their size, due to habitat loss, intentional destruction caused by fear, pesticides and white-nose syndrome, a fungus that has killed more than 8 million bats since it was first identified in 2006.
Please remember that a bat found on the ground is often injured or sick and should be taken to a rehabilitation center. Handle with caution, and always wear gloves when handling any wild animal. Call the Schuylkill Center Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic at 215-482-8217. Care is free but donations are always welcome.