There are more than 1,100 different species of bats in the world, living on every continent except Antarctica. Each one has developed special adaptations for how it lives and what it eats. For example, 70% of all the bats in the world eat insects and many of them use echolocation in order to find food and move around in the dark. Many small insectivorous bats can eat up to 2,000 mosquito-sized insects in one night. These bats are able to eat so much because they have high metabolisms and expend lots of energy in flight.
Bats are beneficial. Worldwide, bats are a major predator of night-flying insects, including pests that cost farmers billions of dollars annually. Throughout the tropics, seed dispersal and pollination activities by bats are vital to rain forest survival. In addition, studies of bats have contributed to medical advances including the development of navigational aids for the blind.
Common to our area are the big brown bat and the little brown bat. These bats consume a wide variety of insects from mayflies to beetles to mosquitoes.
Contact With Bats
If you are bitten by a bat -- or if infectious material (such as saliva) from a bat gets into your eyes, nose, mouth, or a wound -- wash the affected area thoroughly and get medical advice immediately. Whenever possible, the bat should be captured and sent to a laboratory for rabies testing.
People usually know when they have been bitten by a bat. However, because bats have small teeth which may leave marks that are not easily seen, there are situations in which you should seek medical advice even in the absence of an obvious bite wound. For example, if you awaken and find a bat in your room, see a bat in the room of an unattended child, or see a bat near a mentally impaired or intoxicated person, seek medical advice and have the bat tested.
People cannot get rabies just from seeing a bat in an attic, in a cave, or at a distance. In addition, people cannot get rabies from having contact with bat guano (feces), blood, or urine, or from touching a bat on its fur (even though bats should never be handled!).
Capturing a Bat
If a bat is present in your home and you cannot rule out the possibility of exposure, leave the bat alone and contact an animal-control agency for assistance. If professional help is unavailable, use precautions to capture the bat safely, as described below.
What you will need:
- leather work gloves (put them on)
- small box or coffee can
- piece of cardboard
When the bat lands, approach it slowly, while wearing the gloves, and place the box or coffee can over it. Slide the cardboard under the container to trap the bat inside. Tape the cardboard to the container securely, and punch small holes in the cardboard, allowing the bat to breathe. Contact your health department or animal-control authority to make arrangements for rabies testing.
If you see a bat in your home and you are sure no human or pet exposure has occurred, confine the bat to a room by closing all doors and windows leading out of the room except those to the outside. The bat will probably leave soon. If not, it can be caught, as described, and released outdoors away from people and pets.
Keeping Bats Out of Your Home
Some bats live in buildings, and there may be no reason to evict them if there is little chance for contact with people. However, bats should always be prevented from entering rooms of your home. For assistance with "bat-proofing" your home, contact an animal-control or wildlife conservation agency. If you choose to do the "bat-proofing" yourself, here are some suggestions. Carefully examine your home for holes that might allow bats entry into your living quarters. Any openings larger than a quarter-inch by a half-inch should be caulked. Use window screens, chimney caps, and draft-guards beneath doors to attics, fill electrical and plumbing holes with stainless steel wool or caulking, and ensure that all doors to the outside close tightly.
Additional "bat-proofing" can prevent bats from roosting in attics or buildings by covering outside entry points. Observe where the bats exit at dusk and exclude them by loosely hanging clear plastic sheeting or bird netting over these areas. Bats can crawl out and leave, but cannot re-enter. After the bats have been excluded, the openings can be permanently sealed
Additional things to keep in mind:
- During summer, many young bats are unable to fly. If you exclude adult bats during this time, the young may be trapped inside and die or make their way into living quarters. Thus, if possible, avoid exclusion from May through August.
- Most bats leave in the fall or winter to hibernate, so these are the best times to "bat-proof" your home.