From the Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Big Brown Bats - Photo by Jim Ozier/Georgia DNR
-- Although recent headlines may help perpetuate fear of bats, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources wants to remind homeowners that usually a few simple steps can keep bats outdoors where they belong.
Stories of bats gathering in buildings can fuel superstition and negative myths about bats. Some people panic at the thought of a bat in their home. Others know bats are for the most part harmless and fascinating.
"Though some still fear bats, many people are realizing the benefits of these species greatly outweigh any threats," said Trina Morris, a wildlife biologist with the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division. "The
risk of contracting rabies from a bat is very small. However, bats have a very positive impact on our environment."
Small insectivorous bats those found in Georgia can eat more than 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in an hour. Other species of bats around the world serve important roles as pollinators of crops such as bananas and mangoes.
Georgia is home to 16 bat species, 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 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 system, 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 winter, but some will awaken and emerge to forage on particularly warm winter evenings.
Free-tailed Bats - Photo by Jim Ozier/Georgia DNR
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.
Also, water pollution has affected many waterways valuable to bats because of the aquatic insects the waterways produce. Widespread use of insecticides has further contaminated and reduced food supplies. Recently, bats have also been affected by white-nose syndrome, a mysterious affliction that has caused mass die-offs of cave bats in the northeastern U.S. The deadly condition, named for the white fungal growth found on the muzzles of many of the dead bats, has not been documented in Georgia.
HANDLING BATS RESPONSIBLY
Though bats should be an appreciated part of Georgia’s natural heritage, they are not often welcomed when they begin to roost in buildings, especially if they occasionally stray into someone’s living space.
Bat 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 prized fertilizer in many areas.
Like most species of Georgia’s native wildlife, state law protects all bats. There are no legal remedies that involve killing or harming them. Instead, bats should be excluded from a structure by using one-way doors that allow the bats to come out in the evening to feed, but do not allow them to re-enter. The openings should then be sealed. Exclusions should not be completed between May 1 and Aug. 15, 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. Most exclusions are relatively easy and can be accomplished by the landowner with only minor expenses and some time and patience.
The free-tailed bat, however, is a species whose numbers sometimes grows to thousands at a single roost if not excluded promptly. “In some cases, the problem is too severe for a homeowner to handle themselves,” Morris said. “In those instances, be sure to get estimates from several wildlife control companies licensed with DNR before choosing one to do the job.”
Once the bats are gone, it is essential that the building is repaired and maintained to prevent future occupancy. Large guano accumulations should 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. The website of Bat Conservation International (www.batcon.org) provides advice on excluding bats and information on proper construction and installation of roost structures.
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. Because of the risk of rabies, always avoid handling bats if possible and never handle them with bare hands.
The admiration and respect for bats’ critical roles in nature underscore attempts to resolve problems that affect their long-term survival. Six of Georgia’s bat species are considered 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.
Georgians can help conserve rare bats and other nongame wildlife, native plants and natural habitats through buying a wildlife license plate featuring a bald eagle or a ruby-throated hummingbird. They can also donate to the Give Wildlife a Chance state income tax checkoff. The plates are available for a one-time $25 fee at county tag offices, by checking the wildlife license plate box on mail-in registrations and through online renewals (http://mvd.dor.ga.gov/tags). For the checkoff, fill in an amount more than $1 on line 26 of the long state income tax form (Form 500) or line 10 of the short form (Form 500EZ). Contributions can be deducted from refunds or added to payments.
Visit www.georgiawildlife.com for more information.