Bats should be wel­comed, not feared

Ge­or­gians urged to put out­dated myths aside

The Covington News - - AGRICULTURE & OUTDOORS -

FORSYTH — Hal­loween has come and gone, but su­per­sti­tious fears and neg­a­tive myths about bats live on, fed by the crea­tures’ un­usual habits and ap­pear­ance. Some peo­ple panic at the thought of a bat in their home. Oth­ers are bet­ter in­formed and re­al­ize that bats are for the most part harm­less and fas­ci­nat­ing.

“ Many peo­ple de­spise bats be­cause they per­ceive them to be ag­gres­sive car­ri­ers of dis­ease,” said Jim Ozier, pro­gram man­ager with the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources, Wildlife Re­sources Di­vi­sion. “ While bats can trans­mit ra­bies to peo­ple, such in­ci­dences are ex­tremely rare. Most bat bites are the re­sult of an ob­vi­ously sick bat be­ing han­dled. A wise pre­cau­tion is to avoid han­dling bats with bare hands.”

Ge­or­gia is home to 16 species of bats, all of which seek a shel­tered roost dur­ing the day and emerge at night to eat fly­ing in­sects such as moths, mos­qui­toes and bee­tles. Some species, such as the gray bat and south­east­ern my­otis, de­pend upon spe­cific suit­able caves for roost­ing. Oth­ers, such as big brown bats and evening bats, are more adapt­able and use hollow trees and build­ings. Red bats and Semi­nole bats con­ceal them­selves in fo­liage. All Ge­or­gia bats use echolo­ca­tion, a bi­o­log­i­cal sonar, to find food and avoid ob­sta­cles while fly­ing rapidly in the dark­ness.

Fe­male bats typ­i­cally give birth to one or two young in the spring. Of­ten, sev­eral fe­males form a nurs­ery colony in a warm, shel­tered spot where they bear and raise their pups to­gether. The young are ready to join the adults in flight two to three weeks af­ter birth. Most bats hi­ber­nate dur­ing the win­ter­time, but some will awaken and emerge to for­age on par­tic­u­larly warm win­ter evenings.

Es­pe­cially dur­ing the past cen­tury, many bat pop­u­la­tions have been dra­mat­i­cally af­fected by wide­spread al­ter­ations to their roost­ing and for­ag­ing habi­tat, in­clud­ing loss of crit­i­cal forested ar­eas and caves. Some species have adapted to us­ing build­ings for shel­ter, but old build­ings are of­ten de­stroyed and bats are usu­ally not wel­come when they move into the walls or at­tics of peo­ple’s homes. Ad­di­tion­ally, wa­ter pol­lu­tion has im­pacted many wa­ter­ways valu­able to bats be­cause of the aquatic in­sects they pro­duce. Wide­spread use of in­sec­ti­cides has fur­ther con­tam­i­nated and re­duced food sup­plies.

Han­dling bats

Though bats should be an ap­pre­ci­ated part of our nat­u­ral her­itage, they are not of­ten wel­comed when they be­gin to roost in build­ings, es­pe­cially if they oc­ca­sion­ally stray into some­one’s liv­ing space. Their drop­pings, com­monly known as guano, build up at the roost and can cre­ate un­pleas­ant odors. Guano ac­cu­mu­la­tions also some­times har­bor a fun­gus whose spores, if in­haled in con­cen­trated amounts, can cause a lung in­fec­tion known as histo­plas­mo­sis. On the other hand, guano is a highly prized fer­til­izer in many ar­eas.

“ In most sit­u­a­tions, nui­sance bat prob­lems can be re­solved with no harm to the bats and lit­tle ex­pense to the home­owner if de­tected early,” Ozier said.

Like most species of na­tive wildlife, all bats are pro­tected by state law; there are no le­gal reme­dies that in­volve killing or harm­ing them. In­stead, they should be ex­cluded from the struc­ture by seal­ing open­ings and us­ing one- way doors that al­low the bats to come out in the evening to feed, but do not al­low them to reen­ter. Ex­clu­sions should only be done dur­ing early spring and late sum­mer/ fall to avoid en­trap­ping young that can­not yet fly.

Home­own­ers should be par­tic­u­larly alert to the pres­ence of bats early in the spring so they can be ex­cluded prior to birth of the young. The free­tailed bat is a species whose num­bers some­times grow to many thou­sands at a sin­gle roost if not ex­cluded promptly.

Once the bats are gone, it is es­sen­tial that the build­ing is re­paired and main­tained to pre­vent fu­ture oc­cu­pancy. Large guano ac­cu­mu­la­tions should also be re­moved by a qual­i­fied tech­ni­cian. Ideally, an al­ter­nate roost struc­ture should be in­stalled nearby when evict­ing bats. Home­own­ers should seek tech­ni­cal ad­vice from a qual­i­fied source be­fore at­tempt­ing to han­dle bat ex­clu­sions them­selves.

“ If a home­owner hires some­one to do the job, they should make sure the per­son is qual­i­fied, per­mit­ted and aware of proper ex­clu­sion tech­niques,” Ozier said. “ It is gen­er­ally a good idea to get mul­ti­ple es­ti­mates and ref­er­ences for larger jobs.”

Like many other species of mam­mals, bats can con­tract ra­bies and an in­fected bat can spread the dis­ease through bit­ing. Bats that present a po­ten­tial health risk by en­ter­ing peo­ple’s liv­ing spa­ces should be evicted im­me­di­ately.

Bat pro­tec­tion

To­day, we know enough about bats to ad­mire and re­spect them for their crit­i­cal roles in na­ture, and to at­tempt to re­solve some of the prob­lems that af­fect their long- term sur­vival. Six of Ge­or­gia’s bat species are con­sid­ered to be of spe­cial con­ser­va­tion con­cern be­cause of threats to their pop­u­la­tions. Three of th­ese, the gray bat, In­di­ana bat and Rafinesque’s big- eared bat, are listed for spe­cial pro­tec­tion un­der the Ge­or­gia En­dan­gered Wildlife Act. The gray and In­di­ana bat re­ceive even stronger pro­tec­tion on the fed­eral En­dan­gered Species List.

Bat man­age­ment

Sev­eral states are form­ing groups sim­i­lar to Ge­or­gia’s Bat Work­ing Group to sup­port the North Amer­i­can Bat Con­ser­va­tion Part­ner­ship. The Part­ner­ship and work­ing groups seek to iden­tify re­search, sur­vey, mon­i­tor­ing, man­age­ment and pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion ef­forts needed to pro­mote con­ser­va­tion of bat pop­u­la­tions and sup­port pro­grams that meet th­ese needs.

For more in­for­ma­tion on bats, please con­tact the Ge­or­gia DNR/ WRD Nongame Con­ser­va­tion Sec­tion ( 478- 994- 1438) or visit www. geor­giaw­ildlife. com. Also, visit the fol­low­ing Web sites: Ge­or­gia Bat Work­ing Group ( http:// www. ba­si­cally­bats. org/ gbwg/ abou­tUs. html), Bat Con­ser­va­tion In­ter­na­tional ( www. bat­con. org) and North Amer­i­can Bat Con­ser­va­tion Part­ner­ship ( www. bat­con. org/ nabcp/ newsite/ in­dex. html).

Ge­or­gians can sup­port nongame wildlife con­ser­va­tion, ed­u­ca­tion and re­cre­ation pro­grams by buy­ing a wildlife li­cense plate or by do­nat­ing to the “ Give Wildlife a Chance” State In­come Tax Check­off. Sales of the bald ea­gle/ Amer­i­can flag and ruby- throated hum­ming­bird tags are the pri­mary fund­ing source for the WRD’s Nongame Con­ser­va­tion Sec­tion.

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