Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Killing Fields

An Albany Eye On Crime

Last night he visited me again. Just past midnight, dropping down from the attic into the darkened hallway where I was composing a new story for Weird Tales at my desk in the alcove, the only illumination the pale glow from my computer screen. He flew over my head like always. It was a sweltering August night, my head and face bathed in sweat, the only relief provided by the rapid oscillations of the large ceiling fan overhead. I was only vaguely aware of his presence, then SWAT and, seconds later, SWAT again. Putting on the lights, I see the carcass of the bat lying two steps down on the carpeted staircase, Bridget the cat sniffing it tentatively (Bridget is a scaredy-cat, normally belly to the carpet as she slinks off down the stairs away from bat invaders). I shoo her away and she takes off (Dare I say it? Like a bat out of hell!)

This is my tenth bat but the first one to be done in by a rapidly whirring ceiling fan in the dark. Occasionally when chasing the bat around the hallway with the lights blazing, it might panic and get whacked by the fan, but not mortally. I figure this was a young’un whose radar had a few kinks to work out. So I picked him up in a towel, as is my custom, and dumped him out the window into the yard. He was still there next morning, DOA.

I found out next day that mine was only one of many visitations by the diminutive brown bats to my neighbors’ stately old houses (mine’s a row house built in 1871). The alarms went out over the neighborhood list serve. I confess I have usually found the complaints of my neighbors living in the gentrified precincts of Center Square, Hudson-Park and the Mansion District of Downtown Albany, more than a little silly: suburban types who’d moved into a City and discovered noise, traffic, and college students taking a leak in the alley next to Dunkin’ Donuts, when not stealing flower pots tastefully arranged on the stoops of their townhouses. But this time I found their comments revealing. I report these (with editorial comment to put things in perspective):

(the Bat-a-phile) “Bats are important. They eat huge quantities of insects. The Little Brown Bat can eat 1,000 mosquitoes in a single hour; the Big Brown Bat can consume 6,000 on a good summer’s night. The little brown bats are recovering from white nose syndrome that has wiped them out in the caves around the State. If you don’t want them in your house, you do need to locate and seal the entrance points to your building. If you have a cat, isolate it in another room; my cat loves catching bats!”

(the Stake-Out) “To find out how they’re getting in, stand outside in the evening and watch how they come out of your house. Start watching at sunset, keep your eye on any small openings until one hour after sunset. Remember that bats can fit through a hole the size of your thumb, and move fast. Do this for several consecutive nights… ”
(the Old Hand) “Close off the room the bat’s in. Open the window wide. Turn a light on by the window so the bat can see you and the exit (Bats are not blind). Bats will follow the air flow; eventually it will leave.”

(the Rustic) “Farmers just hold a broom, bristles up, underneath the bat when it has calmed down, then carry the broom gently to the door or window—POOF! Gone!”

(the Poisoner) “I had a problem with bats at camp for years, but when I put rat Decon in the attic crawl space, that got them!”

(the Serial Killer) “ Disable it with a broom, then capture it with a pillowcase. Then hit it with a hammer and dump it in the trash. Works every time.”

From this, you can see that I am surrounded by helpful neighbors. But I don’t think I’ll mention the Incident of the Lethal Ceiling Fan (I keep thinking of Kafka’s ‘In the Penal Colony’, Poe’s ‘Pit and the Pendulum’). No need to excite the more bloodthirsty among the neighbors.

Having come by a new respect for the little guys, I Googled the Bat. In case you didn’t know:

-Bats are nocturnal, they spend their days sleeping (in your attic) and grooming; they have fur and clean themselves like cats. They hunt by night, by “echolocation”. When bats fly, they project a constant stream of high-pitched sounds only their fellow-bats can hear. When the sound waves hit an insect or other object (me, for instance, in my darkened hallway), the bat zeroes in on its prey or avoids the likes of me…That bats look to get tangled in your hair is an Old Wives’ Tale: he’s just heading for that bug on your head…In winter, the bat goes into Hibernation or Torpor like a bear to conserve body heat, energy (presumably, in your attic).

-Bats are rarely rabid, but if they are found to be in a room with a sleeping person,
contact the Health Department; rabies shots are advised since it’s possible to not realize you’ve been bitten (the bat has small, sharp teeth). And, if you can, hold onto the bat for testing. Don’t touch a bat with bare hands, for obvious reasons. Also because he has “bat bugs”, first cousin to the bed bug, who can switch hosts.

-If you decide to evict your bat colony (yes, the bat is a communal creature), bataphiles caution that the exclusion never be done in June, July or August, when there will be present many young that cannot fly. Wait till Fall, when they have learned to fly. The youngsters are tutored in maternal groups. Each mother bat delivers one baby. And that Little Brown Bat can live 40 years.

Should you wish to get more up-close and personal, there is the annual Great Lakes Bat Festival at the Cranbrook Institute of Science and the Bat Zone, in Bloomfield, Michigan, in mid-July. Its purpose: to spread the message that bats are critical to ecosystems around the world, and need our protection. I believe it. If the little brown bats should ever fail, God forbid, to be on duty in my yard on a summer’s night gobbling up 1,000 mosquitoes an hour, that’s The End of Barbequing As We Know It. Believe it!

Robert Knightly


  1. I enjoyed this so much I just sent a memo on it to the Dorothy L list ! Read my comment there for Sept. 2. tjs

  2. I think it's sad that people are so eager to kill bats rather than find a way to get them out of the house or confine them to one room. Maybe maybe if everyone was made aware of those statistics -- 1,000 mosquitoes a night -- then reminded that among other things, mosquitoes carry West Nile virus. There have been 66 deaths from the virus and 1560 cases. There are also worse diseases that are mosquito-borne and if we keep having warmer and longer summers they may come north. Dengue fever, malaria -- around 650,00 world wide from that -- Rift Valley Fever, Yellow Fever and several types of encephalitis.

    Instead of killing them because they're in your house put up a bat house. People used to put up houses for purple martins, but their population has crashed. We do not want the same thing to happen to bats.

  3. My bat-loving husband put up a bat house once in Garrison, but failed ever to attract any. Maybe you and your neighbors need to provide alternative housing for them and then they'll stay out of your attics. Anything that eats mosquitoes is MY FRIEND!

  4. Carol Steinhart, Madison, WISeptember 4, 2012 at 3:08 PM

    How familiar that sounds, down to how my neighborhood association gets excited every summer when the young leave home; it floods our listserv with questions and advice about bats and bat control. I keep a fish net handy to catch them with and I release them outside. Besides sleeping by door and window frames (and of course flying around the house as darkness falls) I've found them treading water in the toilet, tangled up in dental floss in the waste basket, and trapped in ceiling light globes. I rescued one from a wastebasket once only to have a crow knock it out of the sky and eat it as soon as I set it free. Big Brown Bats, Little Brown Bats, Indiana Bats, I've had them all. They're kind of cute, actually.