Bats generally helpful — but not indoors

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Local News

September 20, 2018 - 10:14 AM

Wildlife biologist Steve Barlow snapped this photo of a big brown bat roosting in an attic of an Iola building this week. He offered tips on how to get bats outdoors. COURTESY PHOTO

They’re wildly misunderstood creatures that provide much more benefit than danger.
Still, most folks cringe when the subject turns to bats.
A local establishment — whose occupants wish to remain anonymous — learned it has become a favorite nesting site of dozens of bats, identified as big brown bats.
The discovery prompted a call to Iolan Don Erbert and his business partner, wildlife biologist Steve Barlow, who build and distribute bat houses nationwide.
Erbert and Barlow visited the building this week, and confirmed the number of bats — perhaps as many as 100 — and offered solutions on how to encourage the winged mammals to seek shelter elsewhere.
First, the bad news.
It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to completely eliminate the bats from roosting there, Barlow said.
The building’s age means that any number of seemingly impenetrable crevices are still big enough to allow bats entry, he explained.
And once they select a site, the highly intelligent — and long-lived — bats are wont to stay.
Brown bats can live 20 years or longer, Barlow noted, and have exception memories.
“They’ll cling to a good roost site,” Barlow said.
However, a multi-pronged approach could entice the bats to find a new, more desirable, home.
He encouraged the owners to first allow the bats time to leave — they’ll seek warmer climate to hibernate over the winter — before taking other steps.
Barlow recommended erecting a nearby bat house, a specially constructed chamber built specifically for bats. One such structure, about the size of a mini refrigerator, can house thousands of bats.
“You can put one up outside on top of a pole, and most people would never know it’s there,” Barlow said.
Secondly, if the bats do return, periodic harassment may make them uncomfortable enough to find another home. Barlow suggested leaving a radio or television playing in the attic, or for more extreme measures, putting a house cat up there for an hour or so a day.
If those don’t work, a person could enter the attic once or twice a day and shine a light on them.
Ideally, the bats will be perturbed enough to find a nearby roosting site — the bat house.
“If they prefer the bat house, they’ll keep using it from now own,” Barlow said.
The bat house could even be removed, although the bats would be harmless to the building’s users by then.
“They honestly won’t bother you in the bat house,” Barlow said.

THE BIGGEST problems with “bats in the belfry” is that since they are living creatures, they leave behind waste.
Guano — bat dung —  can damage ceiling rafters if left unchecked, he explained, even though it’s a highly valued fertilizer for farmers because the waste is rich in nitrogen.
“But with guano is urine, and uric acid,” Barlow explained, which can damage wood, metal and other building materials with long-term exposure.
And while it’s exceedingly rare, brown bats also can be carriers of rabies.
“If you see a bat on the ground, there’s a good chance it’s sick,” Barlow said.
Those who find a grounded bat should contact an animal or pest control professional, he said.
Bats are  highly coveted in agricultural areas because of their ability to target crop-killing insects.
Brown bats are strictly insectivores, Erbert noted.
A single brown bat will feast on thousands of mosquitoes a day, as well as beetles, flies, tree bugs and cockroaches.
One Illinois-based study found a colony of 150 big brown bats consumes a million or more insects a year.

BARLOW and Erbert admit carrying a soft spot for the big brown bats.
“I love ‘em,” Barlow said. “But like anything, just because I love an animal, it doesn’t mean I want it in my house, either.”

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