Bats in our belfry

Well, now that that’s over, let’s all take a minute to reassess where we stand.  No, I am not talking about the recent national election debacle and its vitriolic rhetoric.  (Or in words that both sides can understand:  Mean people saying hurtful things, most of which are downright lies!)  The fallout from that is nowhere near over and will probably never end—all three sides (the Democrats, the Republicans and the Media)  won’t allow that to happen.

At Peace River Wildlife Center our daily dilemmas are of a different sort.  We recently admitted a bat that someone had found in his attic.  Thinking the tiny creature was a baby in need of assistance, he brought it to PRWC.  A call to our bat expert confirmed our suspicions that this patient was an adult evening bat.  After a thorough physical exam, the bat was given a clean bill of health and sent on his way.  He was placed in a tree near the house where he was found.

Bats sometimes get inside houses accidentally while chasing mosquitoes, moths and other insects on which they feed.  Once inside, they can become disoriented or exhausted.  If found on the ground, they may simply not be able to take off from that vantage point.  Most bats need to climb up a curtain or tree and drop a short distance to take flight.

As mammals, bats can become infected with the virus that causes rabies.  But they need not be irrationally feared because of that.  They are actually less likely to transmit rabies than larger wildlife species like raccoons, foxes and skunks.  Such small animals, bats tend to die directly from the attack of a rabid animal or succumb quickly after being infected.

They do, however, need to be handled in a specific way because of their status as a rabies vector species.  If you find one that you think may be injured or ill, do not handle it with bare hands.  Any bat that has come into direct contact with a person must usually be euthanized to test for rabies—whether the bat is showing signs of being sick or not and even if it has not bitten or scratched the person involved.

Pick up any questionable bat using thick leather gardening or animal-handling gloves and a towel.  Or place an empty waste basket or box over the animal and gently urge it to climb in of its own accord.  Cover it lightly with a cloth or paper towel or piece of fabric and transport it to PRWC as quickly as possible.  Call Charlotte County Animal Control (941-833-5690) or PRWC for more specific information if needed.

If you discover bats living in your attic and want them gone, the best way to get rid of them is by exclusion.  Place a large fine mesh cloth or piece of screen over their entrance, attached only at the top and overlapping the bottom and sides by at least 12 inches.  This way the bats can get out of the attic, but will not be able to get back in and they will find another place to roost.  Do not do this during mating season (mid-April to mid-August) unless you are certain there are no babies present.  If the babies are not able to fly yet, they will not be able to follow their parents outside and will die.

Bats are the only mammal that can fly (flying squirrels and sugar gliders really just glide downward after leaping from a high perch.)  Although bats do have eyes and fairly good vision, they use echolocation to fly and feed after dark.  They emit high-pitched sounds as they fly to detect food and avoid collisions with stationary objects.  Florida has 13 species of bats that either live here year round or are seasonal residents, and all are insectivores.  Much-maligned and often misunderstood, bats make great neighbors here in southwest Florida.  They eat many of the flying and biting insects that torment us.

We have some events coming up and we would love for you to spend some time with us if you are in our neck of the proverbial woods.

PRWC would like to welcome back our northern friends with the season’s first Sunset Celebration this Friday, November 18 from 4-6p.m. at the Center.

Saturday, November 19 from 10am–3pm, PRWC will be at the Charlotte Harbor Nature Festival at the Charlotte County Sports Complex )behind the baseball stadium.)

This week’s festivities conclude with a fundraising dinner dance by Punta Gorda Isles’ group Beyond Ourselves at Isles Yacht Club on Saturday, November 19 starting at 6pm.  For tickets and information go to www.beyondourselves.peapps.com.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Close-up of a bat wing
Close-up of a bat wing
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