Recently, while sitting by the campfire, I looked up to see a familiar dark shadow swirling round and round. It was dusk and feeding time for these little creatures that would continue until almost dawn. Although they fascinate me, I know all too well the havoc created by a roosting colony in an attic. But, before I start in on the bad, allow me to present the good in hopes of giving you a better understanding of bats.
Most people are unaware of how important bats are for our eco-systems because they look at them as flying rodents, but it would amaze you to know there are over 1,000 different species of them. There are nine species known to New Orleans alone and they are voracious insectivores, eating most of the flying insects that have a propensity to buzz around your head.
A colony can eat hundreds of thousands of pounds of insects in one night. Not only is this helpful in reducing the amount of bug bites you acquire, but is also necessary in keeping crops edible and pestilence in check. Bats breed in warm seasons and females give birth to usually one baby for one birth per season, although some species of females can birth up to four babies or two sets of twins. A single male can mate with up to 100 females and maybe even more. Growth of babies depends on the size of the mother, but the offspring can usually fly anywhere from three weeks to four months after birth.
Okay, so now you know a little more about these sonar-equipped insect-eating pests, how do you get rid of them? Although people try various poisons, plugging holes, trapping and killing bats, you should know that in most states it is illegal to kill them. There are federal laws in place to protect bats on the endangered species list, and while you may kill one or two, you will not solve the problem especially if they are roosting in your attic. Bats migrate back to their birthplace in colder climates and never stray too far from their roosts in warmer climates. The best way to rid your house of bats is to call a licensed professional.
However, if you’re unable to hire a professional for whatever reason and must take on the challenge, then you must perform bat exclusion. No, not exorcism, an exclusion! Begin by looking for entries by observing the bats for a few nights. Once you’ve located the exits and entries, you can plan to start sealing up these holes and make certain to secure all of them. Bats can fit through an opening as small as 3/8”, so take your time and make sure to get all the cracks and holes. Once this is accomplished, I recommend placing aluminum screening used for doors and windows over the same areas. While you can use netting, the bats will get tangled up and die while aluminum is harder to chew through and proves to be a greater deterrent. When you think you’ve got all the holes and cracks plugged, observe these same areas for a few more nights and chances are you’ve missed a few, enabling you to better pinpoint the remaining entries. Once you’re certain all the entries are closed, you can begin the cleanup.
Cleaning up bat guano and urine is no small job and should be taken very seriously. Bat guano contains histoplasmosis, which causes severe respiratory issues, and in some cases has led to death. First, make sure you are protected. Another concern is bat bugs as they are strikingly similar to bed bugs. These are blood-sucking insect parasites that feed primarily on the blood of bats, but you’ll be able to rid yourself of both in a pinch, so stay covered head to toe.
To complete this household project, pick up a Tyvek disposable suit, HEPA full face filter, thick rubber gloves, protective eye wear, shop vac with extra filters, a roll of five mill painters plastic and contractor’s bags. A disposable Tyvek suit has a hood and booties and is ideal to cover your entire body. I recommend a size larger than you usually take for ease of movement. Next, a HEPA full-face mask to protect your lungs and the breather you see in the photo is about $30.00 and is equipped with pre-filters. Goggles should enclose the area around your eyes. You can wear safety glasses, but just make certain your hood covers the forehead area and be sure to wear thick rubber gloves. You can also take the extra precaution of taping the gloves closed. Once your safety is assured, proceed with the clean up.
Tips for cleaning:
- Once you’re suited up and are ready to go, vacuum the affected area and scrub with bleach and water. Do not mix bleach and ammonia, as it will create toxic vapors. Once you've scrubbed the area, use a disinfectant (non-ammonia) and go over it again.
- Apply a deodorizer to any areas where there is urine or guano and clean again. If it's possible, seal the open areas with a poly sealant.
- Aluminum screen will serve as the best deterrent from bats re-entering. Staple the screen over any holes or opening in the eves or other entry points. You may have to repeat your efforts because bats will likely return several times before giving up.
- Lastly, if you want to do this the right way, offer the bats a new home. Bat boxes are easily made and if you save some guano, you can mix it with water and brush into the bat boxes. Hopefully the bats will smell the mixture and migrate to the boxes.
This article was written with the help of a few good friends: Charles Parker, Phil Richardson, The Bat Guy, Wildlife Game Fish and Parks and the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage and Management.