I have bats in the belfry – literally. However, I am luckier than most who have bat problems because I only have them in the bank barn and not in the house or garage. However, they are getting a little out of control as I hit one the other day while driving the Ranger. Jimmy asked how fast I was going and I told him I wasn’t going fast at all, the bat was flying slow!
Bats are usually beneficial to have around. They are huge bug-eaters, which makes us folks in the Midwest especially grateful for them this year since we have had so much rain and the mosquito population is threatening to carry us away. With just one bat able to eat 600 mosquitoes per hour, they certainly have been feasting this year.
They eat many different varieties of bugs, many that are detrimental to cultivated crops such as pecans, almonds, rice, cotton, corn, coffee, tomatoes, cucumbers and beans to name a few. With their help in pest control, farmers can use less pesticide which is good not only for the environment but also for the pocketbook. Scientists estimate that bats save farmers between 3.7 and 5.4 billion dollars in pest control per year. They are also excellent pollinators of various fruits and nuts. That is huge!
One of the more exciting bat contributions as of late is in the world of medicine. Scientists are extracting a compound from vampire bat saliva and turning it into a medicine called, of all things, Draculin. It is an anticoagulant drug used with stroke patients.
Bats in the barn.
Even with all their good qualities, most people aren’t too keen on living in close proximity to a bat colony and rightfully so. Bats are the most common source for rabies infection for people across the United States. Even though they have this bad rep, only 4 percent of the bat population is actually infected with the virus.
Added to their bad reputation, they are often portrayed as blood sucking, rabid creatures and have been called flying mice although they are not rodents at all. Actually, they comprise the second largest group of mammals in the world with more than 1,300 species ranging in size from a wingspread of 6 inches to 6 feet.
Everyone has heard the phrase “blind as a bat” even though this is false and they can see. But instead of using their eyes to see, they use echolocation to “see” their surroundings. They make high frequency calls that are too high pitched for humans or other animals to hear. These calls hit an object, then bounce off that object and travel back to the bat. This lets them know where the object is located. The amazing part is they can make up to 160 calls per second!
Even though these are amazing creatures, the real problem comes in when you have sheer large numbers of them, as I do. Bats have high metabolisms, for their body weight they eat an extraordinary amount, and each bat poops 20 to 30 times per day. This adds up to a lot of bat poop, or guano, as it is referred to.
Guano is some of the best fertilizer known to man and it’s free. That’s the up side. The down side is guano is a primary source of histoplasmosis, an infectious disease that causes lung problems when people inhale the spores of the histoplasmosis capsulation fungus. The bat feces contain this fungus, which grows in the soil where the droppings land. With so much pooping going on, this guano can easily become a foot deep, hence my problem.
So, what options are there to rid your premises of these critters? Naturally, before tackling the guano problem, you have to get rid of the source. Bats often roost in dark, undisturbed areas such as caves, under bridges, hollow trees, or in mines and wells. Their entry points are usually under the eaves, through loose boards or other openings near the roof. They can squeeze through openings as small as 3/8ths of an inch, but they cannot gnaw to enlarge an area.
Being nocturnal, they usually come out in the evenings to feed. A simple method to eradicate them is to hang bird netting from above the opening they are using to enter. Use staples or duct tape to attach it, letting it extend, unattached at the bottom, to 1 foot below the opening. This allows the bats to leave but not re-enter. After several days, when you notice no more bat activity, the hole can be permanently sealed.
A word of caution, do not seal the opening in June or July when they likely have young inside or your problem won’t be solved at all. Bats hibernate during winter so a prime time to seal is from mid-November through mid-March. Bat houses provide good alternative housing for them so they may not return to places you don’t want them.
Once the bats are gone, you can remove the guano. The first step is to remove the droppings by vacuuming. Be sure and wear a mask to reduce the risk of infection. After the droppings have been removed, scrub the floor with an enzyme-based cleaner to remove any lingering spores, then fog the area with a special cleaner to get in every nook and cranny. Bac-Azap and Bioshield are reported to work well. If in doubt, it is always good to have a professional tackle this problem.
As with everything, I believe in checks and balances. Bats provide good services for us but can also be pests. I don’t want to hurt them, I just want them to move on. Soon they will get their eviction notice from the barn.
bats in flight | iStockphoto.com/peters99