Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture

Gone Batty

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New UNL Extension Publication about bats

New UNL Extension Publication about bats

What is small, flies at night, eats 25-125 percent of its body weight in insects each night and gives most people the heebie-jeebies?  Bats are more than just scary little critters that want to suck your blood; they are helpful creatures that are worth their weight in insect control

These winged mammals are more misunderstood than scary.  There are about 13 species of bats living in our great state, most are rarely found in or around structures.  Bats are insectivores and only need small needle like teeth to crush the insects they catch in flight.  These nocturnal creatures have good vision, but rely on echolocation, or sonar, to hunt in the dark for their prey.  Man, can they eat!  One little brown bat can eat 600 to 1200 mosquito-sized insects every hour.

Only a few species of bats are common in or around structures.  The big brown bat is the most common across the state.  It has dark brown fur on its back, pale brown fur on its underbelly, and it has exposed black skin on its nose, ears, and wings.  It is about 4-5 inches long from nose to tail and weighs a whopping 1/2 to 1/3 of an ounce.  When its wings are fully extended, they can reach lengths of 12 to 16 inches, making it look much larger in flight.

Bats will leave their own ‘calling cards’ to let you know they are around.  The most common sign that a bat is in the area are their droppings, guano.  Bat droppings will look like it contains specks, which are the exoskeletons and wings of insects.  Droppings are often found on attic or porch floors and under eves and shutters.  A 3/8” hole is all the space a bat needs to get into a structure.  The bat will use these openings every evening to go in and out.  Rub marks or smudges, caused by the oil and dirt in the bats fur, are often found near these opening and can alert you of a bat entrance.

July is the month many homeowners encounter bats.  At this time of the year, young bats move around the structure, but they are not strong enough to forage for insects.  They often find their way into the living quarters of the home or just outside their entrance points into a structure.  Young bats are also more likely to fly inside an open window or door.

There are some steps you can take if a single bat has entered the home.  First, open all exterior door and windows and shut the doors to adjacent rooms.  Leave the lights on and stand motionless next to a wall or in a hallway leading to the room.  Wait patiently for the bat to swoop around the room, find an escape route and fly out on its own.  Try to observe the bat leaving the home so you can be sure it made it out safely.

If the bat is at rest on the wall there are some other steps you can take to remove it.  While wearing a thick pair of leather gloves place a large mouthed container over the bat and slide a stiff piece of cardboard between the container and the wall.  The cardboard will help to secure the bat inside the container, allowing you to either get it tested for rabies or to set it free.  If you set it free, place it up at least 4 feet off the ground so it can gain enough lift to fly away.

Bats are associated with rabies, a disease that can be transmitted to humans. While significant, infection can be easily avoided and should not be used as an excuse to kill bats. Only a very small percentage of bats are associated with rabies. Due to their small teeth, you might not realize you have been bitten.  Nebraska has the recommended protocol for handling potential bat-human exposures. Assume a person was bitten if:

  • He/she awakens to find a bat in the room.
  • A bat is found in the room with someone unable to communicate well (i.e. children, intoxicated or otherwise mentally impaired).
  • The bat made contact with a person.

In these situations, do not release the bat.  Take care not to damage the bat’s head.  Contact local health officials to determine where the bat needs to be sent for rabies testing.  If the bat is not found within a couple of hours, talk to your health professional about needed treatment.

The next time you see a bat, think of all these mosquito-munching, nocturnal creatures do to help keep pesky mosquito populations in check.

For more information contact Elizabeth Killinger at elizabeth.killinger@unl.edu, 308-385-5088, on Facebook, Twitter, her blog at https://huskerhort.wordpress.com/, or visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension website: hall.unl.edu.

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Author: Elizabeth Killinger

A Nebraska Extension Educator out of Hall County with a focus in horticulture and sustainable landscapes.

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