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October 13, 2007
Return of the bat

Myotis lucifugus (this picture is courtesy of the Illinois Natural History Survey at www.inhs.uiuc.edu)

Myotis lucifugus, also known as the little brown bat (“myotis” means “mouse-eared”), is found in California and several other states. It is about three inches long, has a 10-inch wingspan, and weighs about 1/4 of an ounce. It is most active in the two hours after sunset, when it eats half of its bodyweight in insects (about 300 bugs a night). Its lifespan is anywhere from three to seven years on average.

The little brown myotis hibernates between September and May, when the weather turns colder. It will look for a hiding place under tree bark, in a hollow tree, in a rock crevice… or in our case, inside our mountain house.

We knew that we had a bat in the house this summer. We thought that we had gotten rid of it in September, when we stopped seeing it fly around inside the house after dark. Little did we know that the bat had merely gone to sleep.

We discovered it completely by chance shortly after our arrival on Friday evening, October 12. Gail had brought up clean sheets and we were in the process of making the bed. We noticed a surprisingly large amount of bat poop all over the bed spread. Looking up, we saw that the only crack in the ceiling had already been sprayed full of spray insulation during a previous trip.

Russell got up on a ladder and looked harder. Even with a flashlight, it took several passes to see. In a smaller crack – no more than a quarter of an inch wide – was a sleeping bat. It had found a winter home, and was happily sleeping – and pooping – right over our bed.

The ceiling over our bed had a large crack that we had already sprayed full of insulation (yellow circle). The sneaky little bat was hiding in the smaller crack.

The first thing we did was decide not to do anything about it that night. It was a rainy evening, already dark outside, and difficult to see the bat even with a flashlight. The second thing we did was move our bed to the other side of the room, so that it was no longer under the pooping bat.

On Saturday morning, we awoke to a gorgeously sunny day with a plan already in mind. First, Russell gently stuffed insulation on either side of the crevice around the sleeping bat. This would prevent it from crawling away where we wouldn’t be able to reach it.

Then, Gail took some of the plastic sheeting she was using for the ceiling vapor barrier. She stapled it to the ceiling around the bat’s roosting crevice, then led it down like a tube and out the window. This would give the bat only one way to go – out of the house.

Gail stapled plastic sheeting around the bat's hiding place and made a tunnel that led out the window

Finally, Russell got up on the ladder with a yardstick. Poking the yardstick through a slit in the plastic, he pushed it into the crevice next to the bat and gently started sweeping it across. It took a couple of nudges, but the bat suddenly fell into the plastic tube. We bumped it down the length of the tube, where it finally fell out of the window and plummeted straight down.

Russell used a yardstick to bump the bat out of its crevice and into the plastic tunnel

We ran around to the outside of the house, where we found the bat all curled up in a ball and lying on its back. It was shivering tremendously. Thinking that it must be freezing cold, Russell decided to move it into the sun. However, when he picked up the board it was resting on, the bat rolled off and landed on the ground on its stomach.

Gail decided to place a glove next to it, to show scale if we took a picture of it. Just at that moment, the bat awoke, spread its wings, and flew straight at us. It didn’t hit us, of course, but it flew wildly around our heads for a few scary seconds before disappearing up into the trees.

We finally get a close-up look at our house guest: on its back shivering, and on its stomach about to spread its wings

We have successfully gotten the bat out of our house, something we thought we would never be able to do. Hopefully the bat is still alive and healthy, perhaps resuming its hibernation somewhere in a nearby tree.

In the meantime, we will continue sealing every possible crack and roosting spot anywhere around the house… just in case.


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