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Bats in New Jersey
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Last Update: 05/26/14
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New Jersey brown bat
T
he Brown bat is really the only bat we have here in New Jersey. There is a sub-species, the Red bat,
almost indistinguishable from the much more common Brown bat. They are 100% insect eaters, and are definitely beneficial animals.  They probably eat more insects, every night, than any other animal. This means that you try not to kill them.  In fact, you may benefit from their proximity, and they will do their job admirably.


Just make sure they don't nest in or on any habitable structures.  Not your house, garage or sheds.   There are "bat houses" that you can buy in Home Depot or your local pet store.  You can also make a bat house yourself.  Install them AWAY from your house, in the darkest corner.  Okay to install ON your UNattached garage, make sure there is no avenue INTO the garage, and try to keep the garage doors closed except when being used.  Keep bats away from the house.

Brown bats, gentle and intelligent animals, ordinarily have but one pup per year.  Bats suckle their young, just like other mammals.  They are successful, helpful animals, usually very unobtrusive.  Most people don't realize it, but the air is alive with bats every evening, even in the winter.

The echo location skills of insect-eating bats are legend.  They can fly and avoid obstacles that you and I can't even see.  They can overtake, capture and eat insects on the wing.  Our New Jersey Brown bat scoops them up in a pocket of his wings and pops them into his mouth without missing a wingbeat.  Our New Jersey Brown bat is not "blind" either - they can actually see quite well.  It's just that since they hunt insects at night, they use their own sonar for the chore.

Unlike other mammals, bats regenerate the hair cells in their inner ears to replace those that they lose in old age, biologists seem to have found.  The number of hair cells in the inner ear of many mammals, including humans and mice, declines with age, and this is the major reason for hearing loss in humans and other mammals.   Not so with bats.

Bats are relatively long-lived mammals and use their sense of hearing immensly, so there might be a genetic adaptation that allows bats to regenerate hair cells into old age.  No other mammal is known to do that.  Our Brown bat can live for up to 30 years.


SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS (RABIES)
All mammals can carry rabies.  And all mammals have been known to carry rabies. With those two facts, the main vector for rabies (around the Delaware Valley) are raccoons. Bats and skunks and fox come next, squirrels (tree and ground) bring up the rear.

Another disease, raccoon roundworm, can also infect other species, bats included, but is more commonly seen in mice, squirrels, rabbits, birds, woodchucks.  It can even infect humans and can cause blindness and even death.  In the event of the death of the human, larvae can be detected in microscopic sections of the brain, heart, lungs, eyes and other affected tissues.

According to recent federal heath statistics, there were four U.S. human-acquired cases of rabies, all from bats, in 1995. In 1996, there were two cases, both from bats.  In 1997, there were four, all from bats.  In 1998 there was just one, again from a bat. The next year, in 1999, no U.S. rabies cases were reported.  There were three rabies deaths in the United States in 2002, one in 2001 and five in 2000.

So far, as of October, 2003, there has only been one reported death from rabies, in Virginia.  It has been documented as the first known case of raccoon rabies that has caused a death in humans.

Since 1980, some 35 people have caught rabies in the United States, all but three of them from bats, according to federal statistics. (The exceptions: two dogs, a skunk, and a raccoon.)

The reason for this is not because there are more and "fiercer" bats, but because bites from bats are more easily overlooked by the person bitten.  As opposed by, say, a dog, cat or raccoon.  Anyone bitten by these animals knows they have been bitten and are more likely to seek medical attention.  Prompt medical attention for rabies is important, because if the disease goes too far it is incurable and terminal.

The world over, some 40,000 people die from rabies - almost all caused by dogs. And here in America, around the turn of the century, some 100 people a year succumbed to rabies, mostly from dog bites.  Death from rabies (from dogs) started declining in the 1920's, and since medical technology can now determine, almost precisely, where the rabies infection came from, lately it has been from bats.



A TRUE STORY....

A few years back, a Texas man was bitten by a bat, inside, at night.  His wife grabbed the bat with a towel and flushed the animal down the toilet. The man noticed no "bite" mark and dismissed the situation.  A few weeks later, with symptoms coming fast and hard, doctors were at a loss to diagnose his condition. Intensive interviewing turned up the experience with the bat.  The bat was gone so no tests could be made, and, of course, by the time the symptoms had become evident, it was too late anyway. The problem is, that once the symptoms of rabies becomes apparent, up to now, there has been no cure.  

In late 2004, however, it has been reported by the CDC that a Wisconsin teenager has apparently been cured of this disease, the only case ever reported so far.  In October of 2004, doctors at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee, put the critically ill girl into a drug-induced coma and gave her a mix of four antiviral drugs.  The CDC calls the recovery "historic."  Indeed it is, because before this, no one has ever been cured of rabies.  The young girl faces years of rehabilitation to train her nervous system again.   (Rabies facts.)



The behavior of bats, in these cases, are certainly unusual.  Bats don't normally bite people.  But affected animals that demonstrate the symptoms of rabies often do things they ordinarily wouldn't.  This includes aggressive behavior, often attacking even inanimate objects without apparent reason.  Always remember that any warm-blooded animal can carry, and be affected by this disease.

Suffice to say, if you are bitten by ANY animal, you are wise to seek the help of a medical doctor immediately.  If the animal is available, it should also be held for tests. The symptoms of rabies develop faster if the bite is closer to the head.  Rabies affects the brain and the spinal cord and eventually causes death in any animal.

Strict attention to the rabies problem - in large animals - dogs, cats, raccoons and skunks has reduced the chance, at least here in the United States.  Bats, however, are invisible to most people, difficult to treat, and have become a serious vector of rabies.

BAT DROPPINGS...

Bats, nesting somewhere in your house, will be largely invisible to you, until the population is heavy.  If you have a heavy population, there is also a multi-disease danger from a large accumulation of their droppings.  The danger is actually small, but however small, there is always a danger, and as with any wild animal, you don't want them living close to your house.
A Long-standing bat infestation

The above picture shows an attic continually infested with bats for years.  Click on the picture, it shows bat droppings to the depth of 7 inches.

MY TAKE?
"My personal opinion is that it's silly to worry about the chance dying of a rabid bat's bite here in the US of A.  With only 25 deaths from rabies in almost 20 years, (1980) you might worry more, say, about the Mack truck coming down the street.

It's just that bats have a rather bad (and undeserved) reputation and most people are unreasonably afraid of them.  These little fellows are one of the many beneficial animals that actually help us."
Don't feed birds or other wild animals, nor habituate them to humans.  This is Naturalist Rule Number One.

There is some Good News....

The vampire bat, Desmodus rotundus, is being investigated for their ability to bite into their victims and use their saliva to keep the blood from clotting while they partake of their meal.  It seems that the bat has an active protein, called desmoteplase, that appears to be able to help human stroke victims.  Researchers are attempting to use desmoteplase to break up and dissolve blood clots in the brain.  In a their official Stroke Journal Report, in Dallas, in early 2003, The American Heart Association announced their support for further investigation into this promising new treatment. As of 2007, however, there has been little progress in this area.




GOT A BAT INSIDE?

HERE'S WHAT YOU DO:
Okay, so you discover you have a bat inside. Flying around, fast, all over the place. First thing. DON'T PANIC!  Everyone does, but try not to.



DOING IT YOURSELF

No reason to panic.  Remember, they won't hurt you.  The only "tool" you need is a work glove. I use a standard leather work glove.  You can even use a leather dress glove. Their teeth are not very big, and almost any glove will work.  If you're not sure, put one glove over another.

People cannot get rabies just from seeing a bat in an attic, in a cave, or at a distance. In addition, people cannot get rabies from having contact with bat guano (feces), blood, or urine, or from touching a bat on its fur (even though bats, or any other wild animal, should never be handled).

Opening the windows (to let them out) usually doesn't work.  Bats become quite confused and frightened and won't easily be able to find their way out, even if you leave them alone.  And if you DO leave them alone, they will only find a place to hide (where you are unlikely to find them) and they'll come out later.

OKAY, THIS IS WHAT YOU DO....
You stand stock still, keep him in sight, and wait until he alights on something.  Watch carefully, they are fast and extremely capable flying machines, more adept than any bird. They won't hurt you, suck your blood or get in your hair.  They know exactly where you are, (because of their echolocation skills) and will not normally even touch you, no matter how close they fly to you.  They only want to get outside, but you must help them.

Fishing nets are not recommended.  The force you must use to swing the net and catch the bat may easily hurt him.  These are small, fragile animals that weigh less than an ounce - they will not hurt you.  Try not to hurt them.

FOLLOW THIS PROCEDURE
Whatever room they are in, close it off so he cannot fly from room-to-room, making it difficult for you.  If he is in one room, you will more easily be able to follow his movements.  They fly fast!  Once he lands on something, IMMEDIATELY put on your glove(s), walk over to where he is, grab him tightly without hurting him, and throw him out of a previously opened window.

He won't fly away as you approach, such as a housefly would, and you will normally have a pretty good chance of grabbing him.  If he does start flying again, wait yet again, watching him closely, and repeat the procedure.  Eventually, he will alight again, and you'll have another chance.

That's all there is to it.  Easy.  It's just what I would do if you called us.  There is nothing more an exterminator would do, in the same situation.  All you need is your glove and a little guts.  To help you with the "guts" part, I once told a little old lady, age 82, how to perform this procedure herself.  She did it, exactly as I detailed above, with no problems. If she can do it, you can do it!

And naturally, if you just can't bring yourself to do it, we will be happy to bring our gloves and do it for you.

                                 THIS IS WHAT YOU DON'T DO!
Don't let anyone talk you into any device or procedure purported to "scare away" bats.  There are no traps or devices (that actually work effectively) that are manufactured to catch bats.  There are no sonic or electronic devices that will keep bats (nor any other animal) away from an area.  There is also no poison registered for bats, and it is against the law to harm, kill or translocate bats to other areas.

The only (and the best) option is removal of their harborage and their physical eviction and exclusion from a structure.  As long as you don't have, let's say, hundreds of bats, this you can usually do this yourself with the help of a siding or "trim" carpenter.




Bat Links

The National Center for Infectious Diseases, the CDC, has a comprehensive resource page on the prevention and control of rabies.  They also have a special page about bats and rabies, another place on how to tell if a bat has rabies.  You can also download, in PDF format, their "bats and rabies" brochure.

Bat Conservation International - BatCon!  An excellent resource on bats of all kinds.

How to make a bat House - from the University of Nebraska, our hero!

A Profile of the Brown Bat from the University of New Hampshire.

The Pennsylvania State University has published a very excellent brochure (a full 28 pages) in PDF format.  You can get it right here.  (1 meg)

Check the excellent page on bats at The Contra Costa School system in California.

And the Army marches in with their excellent paper (.PDF format) about the danger and management of droppings from bats and pigeons.

And last, but certainly not least, here's a place that tells you how to check and see if the droppings you have are actually bat droppings.



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