Bats are the only flying mammals. (Flying squirrels only glide.) Most bats in the North America eat insects. As a matter of fact, one bat eats about 2,000 to 6,000 insects each night. Many of the insects they eat include agricultural crop pests including the tomato horned worm, corn earworm, and many kinds of beetles. Bats also eat annoying insects like flies, mosquitoes, and gnats. Bats live a very long time. Most bats live between 10 and 20 years. Some bats typically live to 30 years old. The oldest known bat was recently recaptured in Europe at 41 years old. When winter comes, some bats migrate to warmer climates. Other bats find a cave or mine to spend the winter. Hibernation allows them to avoid freezing temperatures. During hibernation, a bat’s heart pumps about 11 beats a minute. In contrast, when bats are awake and flying, their heart pumps over 1,000 beats a minute.
Contrary to popular belief, very few bats contract rabies. Over the last 50 years, less than 40 people have gotten rabies from a wild bat. Scientific studies have shown that less than 1% of wild bats test positive for rabies. Nation-wide, about 5% of bats sent to state laboratories test positive for rabies. This number is higher because sick individuals are more likely to be caught and turned in for testing. Most colonies from buildings contain no rabid individuals. If you come in contact with a bat, you should contact their family physician or health department for advice regarding testing and treatment. Pets should be vaccinated against rabies to ensure their safety from wild mammals.
Some important things to know:
● Sick bats do not seek people out for attack; they generally search for a secluded spot to die quietly.
● You cannot get rabies from just seeing a bat in an attic, in a cave or at a distance, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).In addition, you 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).
● If you are bitten by a bat, or if saliva from a bat gets into your eyes, nose or mouth, seek medical attention immediately. Whenever possible, the bat should be captured and local health department notified. If a pet was bitten, you should contact your veterinarian for advice.
● Pets should always be up-to-date on rabies vaccinations in order to be safe when they encounter bats or any other wild animal.
● If a bat or bats are found in a room with a person who cannot reliably rule out physical contact (for example: a sleeping person, a child, a mentally disabled person or an intoxicated person) – those bats should be tested for rabies.
● If you had contact with a bat and were advised to get rabies vaccinations by your physician, the series of shots are administered over a period of time and are given in the upper arm. You will NOT have to get 50+ shots in your stomach, or any other wild stories that people like to talk about. Many of our wildlife specialists have had rabies shots in the past. Feel free to call us and ask questions if you are scared of getting the shots.
● Please know that rabies is readily prevented by the post-exposure shots, but is 99% fatal after symptoms appear. Do NOT put off reporting a bite! This is not a disease that you want to play games with. It is a terrible way to die. Call your health department, animal control department, and physician. If you are having trouble with getting information that you need, call us and we will get you to the right people.
Ask Yourself the Following Questions After Finding a Bat:
- Have you or anyone else had PHYSICAL contact with the bat?
- Has the bat bitten, scratched, or had any contact with bare skin?
- Was the bat found in a room/house where it may have had contact with someone who may not be aware? (Sleeping person, young children, disabled person, or someone intoxicated)
- Have your pets been in the home/dwelling with the bat and unsupervised?
- Attempt to capture the bat if at all possible.* (Close door the room where you found the bat. Keep windows closed. Read below for more capture instructions.)
- Wash the bite wound with soap and water.
- Contact your physician or the local emergency room as soon as possible for instructions.
- If the bat can be captured, call local animal control department (or Wildlife Hotline can help reach them) so the bat can be tested for rabies.
Bats Found Indoors
A bat that is found indoors is most likely to be a crevice-dwelling species (i.e. in Missouri – big brown bat, little brown bat). Although the fur color of crevice-dwelling bats varies, it is usually a dark shade of brown and they do not have fur on their tail webs. These bats are often hibernating bats that have temporarily roused, lost youngsters, or are migrating bats. Oftentimes they will find their way out of the room themselves through an open window (after dark), if the room the bat occupies is closed off from the rest of the house. If this is not an option, and if you feel confident that you can move the animal without physically touching it or injuring it, proceed to Step 1. Otherwise, call the Wildlife Hotline for advice.
Step 1: Wait until the animal is motionless.
A bat that is flying is almost impossible to catch, and you have a greater chance of injuring yourself and the bat if you attempt to capture it while it is airborne. In addition, bats that are caught while flying frequently panic and attempt to bite. Be patient. Wait until the bat lands and is still, and then proceed to Step 2.
Step 2: Contain the bat.
The easiest way to do this is to quietly approach the bat, and wearing thick leather gloves, dangle a towel/blanket/cloth of some kind in front of the bat’s face. He should grab onto the cloth, allowing you to slowly move the cloth into a plastic tote, cardboard box, or other container with a lid. If the bat will grab onto the fabric you use, you will not even have to touch him at all. If he will not grab on, wear your gloves still or using a very thick towel, gather the bat up (holding it securely but not tightly. Place it into a box or similar container with a lid.
Another method is to simply place a box, waste can, coffee can or similar object over the bat where it has landed. Then, take a piece of cardboard and gently slide it between the box and the surface the bat is on (i.e. floor, wall or ceiling). Keep the cardboard in place. Gently turn the container right side up.
*If the bat is captured during the day, proceed to Step 5. If the bat is captured at night, proceed to Step 3.
Note: Do not place the bat in a bird cage or container with small openings. Bats are very intelligent and can easily squeeze through a 1/4 inch crack.
Step 3: Release the bat outdoors at nightfall.
(Note: Do not release the bat if injured, very young, during the day, if it is less than 50 degrees outside, or during inclement weather. Instead, proceed to Step 5).
● Take the container with the bat out doors. Take a flashlight and a towel or gloves with you in case the bat has problems flying away.
● Find an elevated area (such as a deck or ladder), lift the container over your head, and tilt it to the side so the bat can fly out.
● The bat will not be able to fly out of a grounded container in a vertical position, but needs to be at least 4 feet in the air in order to take flight). Proceed to Step 4.
The bat should not be released if:
● It is below 50 degrees outside or during inclement weather.
● It appears to be an orphaned baby bat, sick or injured, or is unable to fly, place the bat in a very secure container with small air holes, a soft cloth (not terrycloth) inside, hanging on the side so the bat can hang upside down and feel safe by hiding in the folds.
● Be sure there is no way they can escape (bats can squeeze through a 1/4 “ space.)
● Do not attempt to give it anything to eat or drink, do not touch it unless necessary (and then only with heavy leather gloves).
● Put the container in a safe, quiet place that is away from children, pets, fire ants or other hazards.
Step 4: Watch it leave. Use a flashlight to watch the bat fly away.
● If the bat does not fly away, or attempts to fly but seems unable to, it is likely that is has an injury or illness. It may be a disoriented juvenile, or it may simply be dehydrated or starved from being trapped indoors.
● If this is the case, use the towel or gloves (not bare hands) to gather the bat up. Keep the bat in the closed container and proceed to
Bats Found Outdoors
● These bats are frequently found on the ground in the early summer when mothers are moving their young, or when they become grounded following bird attacks or storms.
● Occasionally, these bats panic and defend themselves when humans approach by spreading their wings in mock-attack and making loud hissing or clicking noises.
● Follow the steps given below to rescue a tree-roosting bat. If you feel unequipped to move the bat, proceed to Step 5.
● If the bat is a brown color, it is probably a crevice-dwelling species (big brown bat or little brown bat.) Crevice-dwelling bats found out of doors and grounded may be sick and will need to be examined and cared for by a “licensed wildlife rehabilitator”.
● Place the bat into a container using the method described in “Bats Found Indoors”, and proceed to Step 5.Step 1: Make sure the bat is safe from predators. Have someone stand guard over the bat so it does not fall prey to domestic pets, fire ants or birds. If the bat remains quiet and still, proceed to Step 2. If the bat panics as described above, proceed to Step 5.
● This usually initiates a grab reflex and the bat will grip the branch with its toes and hang upside down. When you lift the branch you can inspect the bat (or mother bat with babies) for any injuries.
● If infants are clinging to the mother and there are no apparent injuries, proceed with Step 3. If injuries are detected, proceed to Step 5.Step 3: SLOWLY move the bats into the branches of a nearby tree. This must be done very carefully. A sudden move may cause a mother bat to fly off and abandon her young. Using a ladder, gently secure the branch into a spot where foliage and leaves conceal the bats. The spot should be on a branch at least six or more feet from the ground, with a clearing below to enable the bat to take flight. Do not place the bats on the trunk of a tree where they will be vulnerable to predators. Proceed to Step 4.
● If the bat has remained in the same position overnight it may have an undetected injury or illness.Step 4: Monitor the area. Check the area the following morning.● If the mother bat is gone but her babies remain, the babies may have been abandoned and will need to be cared for by a wildlife rehabilitator. Proceed to Step 5.
Step 5: Bring the bat(s) to a “licensed bat wildlife rehabilitator”. Call the Wildlife Hotline to find a rehabber near you.
Preventing Bat Access to your Home
Small bat colonies can usually be tolerated and simply left alone, but bats should always be prevented from entering human living quarters. The first step in exclusions is to inspect the building’s interior for small openings through which bats could enter. All openings connecting the attic or other potential roosting areas to living quarters should be sealed, while entry points on the outside of the building are left open. Caulking, flashing, screening or insulation can be used to seal most openings on the inside. Draft guards should be placed beneath doors to attics; electrical and plumbing holes should be filled with steel wool, caulking or weather stripping.
Caulking, flashing, screening or heavy-duty mesh can be used to bat-proof most openings on the outside. Expanding foam or similar products should never be used to seal cracks in a building where bats are active because they can become caught in it. Caulking should be water-based and applied early enough in the day so it has time to dry before bats emerge in the evening.
Never simply wait for bats to fly out at night and then seal openings. Not all of the bats leave at the same time, and some may remain inside all night, especially during storms. Instead, use tubes or netting as one-way valves that allow bats to leave, but not to reenter. These valves (or exclusion devices) must be placed over all openings that bats use to enter and exit. Valves may be constructed from well-cleaned caulk tubes or plastic pipes. Lightweight plastic netting, with mesh of one-sixth inch (0.4 centimeter) or smaller, may also be used for one-way valves. These exclusion devices should be left in place for five to seven nights to ensure that all bats have left the building. After careful observation to be sure all bats have left, the one-way valves may be removed and the openings sealed.
What about baby bats?
Bats often roost in buildings during maternity periods, when they give birth and raise their pups. Exclusions should not take place until young bats are able to fly; otherwise, they will be trapped inside, away from their mothers, and die of starvation. Separating pups from their mothers may also lead mother bats to search for other entrances to reach their young.In North America, the maternity season begins as early as mid-April in the southernmost United States and in mid-June in the northern U.S. and Canada. Young bats are flying by late August. Exclusions should not be conducted between April and late August.
Most house-dwelling bats migrate to warmer climates or enter caves or abandoned mines to hibernate in the late fall. However, a few species can hibernate in buildings. If hibernating bats are present in cold regions during the winter, exclusions should be postponed until spring when they emerge to feed. In mild climates, some bats may remain active year-round, but exclusions should be carefully monitored or avoided during periods when night temperatures fall below 50 degrees F (10 degrees C).
If you have found a baby bat that cannot fly, is visibly injured, or you aren’t sure about – please call the Wildlife Hotline @ 1-855-WILD-HELP for assistance.
White Nose Syndrome
In 2011 the Midwestern states, including Missouri & Illinois, started receiving calls about a new disease that seemed to be affecting our bat populations. This new ‘disease’ is called White Nose Syndrome (WNS for short). WNS is a disease caused by a fungus, Geomyces destructans, that attacks cave-hibernating bats and has only been known in the U.S. since 2006. First discovered in New York state in 2006, it has rapidly spread throughout the northeastern U.S., down the Applachians, and into Canada. Since 2007, it has been documented to kill at least 1 million bats of six species. All species of bats known to be susceptible are found in Missouri. WNS has only been found to infect bats. Humans and other animals are not known to be affected.
If I find a bat that looks sick, what should I do?
The public should not handle bats, but contact your local MDC office or agent. There is a small but real risk that the bat could be rabid, especially in summer, and rabies is fatal to humans and mammals. WNS is not associated with rabies. WNS is more likely to be found in late winter or early spring, and the bat would likely have a white, fuzzy fungal growth on the face, ears and wings, but not always. When you find dead bats on the ground, WNS bats may present almost completely covered in a white fuzzy mold. After death the fungus tends to take over the whole carcass of the bat. If you see bats that you believe are sick with WNS, please report it to your local Conservation office or call the Wildlife Hotline to find the office closest to you. Missouri’s Department of Conservation can be found at http://mdc.mo.gov or the hotline can be reached @ 1-855-WILD-HELP.