Bat get into your house? Here's the right way to take care of it. (Spoiler alert: I did everything wrong.)
It’s the time of year when bats are most likely to accidentally end up inside. This door in my house, plus half a roll of xl masking tape, didn’t keep us safe from the bat—it kept the bat safe from us.
Bats in my belfry. And my bedroom. And my bathroom.
By Chea Waters Evans
It’s a Monday in mid-July and it’s almost midnight. I’m reading a good book that I can’t put down, but I finally make myself do it. I turn off the light, then decide to check and make sure my contact lens case cap is on securely, so I turn on my phone flashlight.
I am, as one might say (but shouldn’t), blind as a bat.
So, I turn on the phone flashlight and suddenly see a fuzzy, black blob circling near my ceiling, and I think two things simultaneously: 1) Maybe that’s just a very, very, very large moth, and 2) I know that’s a bat but please, God, if you’re up there, I would prefer an eagle-sized moth.
In the nine years I’ve lived in Charlotte, there have been bats in the house on two other occasions, so it’s not my first time at the bat rodeo. I really dislike this rodeo. One little part of my brain knows the bat isn’t going to hurt me, but all the rest of me is like, I AM GOING TO DIE.
My sister is visiting and sleeping in the guest room. I’m trying to be super chill, and casually call her from my bed. (In retrospect, I’m not sure what I thought she was going to do about it.) Right as her phone is ringing, the swooping shape dips and whooshes so close over my body that I can feel its breath on me. Yes. Bat breath. That’s probably not even a thing but it should be.
This is when I scream and run, forgetting my glasses, and don’t even touch the ground while I’m running to the guest room. Do I leave behind the child sleeping in my bed? Yes. Do I feel great about this parenting moment? No. I don’t.
So while my sister and I are now both screaming, my oldest child comes running out of his bedroom with some kind of paring knife in his hand and finds us in the laundry room. At this point, I have a towel wrapped around my head like it’s a spa day and my sister’s wearing a towel like a babushka. I find a winter beanie and put it on my son’s head. I’m still yelling about the bat. My son is relieved to find out he doesn’t have to use his paring knife to murder the attacker he thought was after his mother. I’m touched that he even thought about doing that.
A lot of other things then happen, including my middle son waking up and saying, what’s going on? And I say, there’s a bat in the house, and then he slams his door shut. I know the bat isn’t in my room anymore because it flew downstairs past us while we loudly panicked in the laundry room, so I manage to shut the door so my youngest son is safe in my bed, and grab my glasses while I’m at it. He actually slept through the whole thing, as did one of my nieces.
The bat eventually flies into the boys’ bathroom and I manage to sneak up the stairs and shut the door. But remembering the last time we had a bat in the house and how it crawled underneath a closed door and started flying around again, I sealed the entire thing with enough masking tape to keep King Tut’s tomb secure. I also added some warning Post-It Notes in case anyone tried to open the door.
The next morning, I called the Vermont Bat Center and spoke with Barry Genzlinger. He does a lot of bat rescue and rehabilitation work, and he knows everything about bats. Unfortunately for me, he’s not in the business of retrieving bats from people’s bathrooms. He’s good with advice, though. His first words of wisdom: “Be brave.”
I wasn’t brave. Instead, I called my brother, who was also visiting from out of town, and made him squeeze in a quick trip to my house for some de-batting activity before he and his family went to the airport. I passed on Genzlinger’s advice: wear gloves, be calm and gentle, and use a t-shirt or soft cloth to carefully remove the hanging bat from wherever it landed and gently bring it outside.
I called Genzlinger later in the week, when I had calmed down a bit, to talk to him about bats, common misconceptions about them, and what to do when one gets into your home. I mentioned that I noticed all three times we had a bat stop by for a nighttime visit, it was in the latter half of July. He explained that it’s the time of year when adolescent bats are figuring out where and how to fly; they’re pups heading out on their own, just like my knife-wielding 16-year-old who just got his first car.
“They’re just exploring their world,” Genzlinger said. The bat in my house came through a door that was left wide open at night (damn kids), but Genzlinger said even a curious bat who lives in an attic can follow the airflow through a tight spot and end up in a part of your home where you live.
The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department publishes a brochure to help people who have a bat in the house. I strongly urge you to read this now, rather than in the dead of night when you’re running around screaming with a towel over your head.
It turns out, according to the brochure and to Genzlinger, that I did everything wrong, from the head coverings to the yelling. “What does screaming and waving a blanket over my head do to a bat?” I asked him.
“Scares it to death,” he said. “The problem is that bats are very fragile. Because they’re so small, when they feel threatened and they get agitated like that, their pulse rate goes up to hundreds of beats per minute and they get overly stressed.” Then they fly around in a panic, which then freaks us out even more.
It turns out the bat and I were feeling the exact same way, and now I feel bad.
Genzlinger suggests that along with being brave, one should calm down. “The best thing to do is just stand still, wait for the bat to land, and then you can deal with the bat,” he said. “Once the bat lands, it begins to calm down, and it doesn’t perceive you as a threat. If you run around waving at it, chasing it with a towel, all that does is stress the bat even further and you run the risk of the bat getting injured because it’s trying to escape from you.”
“The wing bones on a bat are smaller than a toothpick,” Genzlinger said, and a bat can’t survive back out in the wild with a broken wing.
I have two bat houses on my shed, and they’re at capacity—I like that they’re eating the mosquitos and I love that they’re a maternal colony of little brown bats, which are endangered in Vermont. I didn’t want to hurt the little guy in my house and I definitely didn’t want to kill it, but I was concerned about it trying to hurt or kill me. Genzlinger said the whole bat-in-your-hair thing just isn’t going to happen, so there’s no reason to cover your head.
“The bat is going to avoid you at all costs,” he said. “It thinks you are a big monster.” He added that the bat probably flew so close to me while I was still in bed because bats not only actually have perfect eyesight, they can detect heat. If it’s cold, he said, it could fly near a person for warmth.
In a couple months, the bat pups will be more familiar with their surroundings and will know how all their equipment works, and their visits to bedrooms and living rooms will be far less frequent. (By the way, if a bat is flying around in a room with someone who is sleeping or incapacitated in some way, the fish and wildlife department says to catch it and, unfortunately, kill it. This happened to me one time and if you’re not 100 percent positive it didn’t bite you, they have to test it for rabies.)
When we went in the next morning to get the bat, and by “we” I mean my brother, it was gone. There were bat droppings all over the room but no bat, so I’m pretty sure it escaped through the vent fan in the ceiling and went home to the bat house to protect its mom from any attacking humans.