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Sharing the Planet with Bats

Given it is Earth Day this month, and it is also the time of year bats are coming out of hibernation, I am riffing on an post I wrote a few years ago on sharing the planet with bats because bats are beautiful creatures who suffer greatly as result of human exploitation, misinformation, and fear.


Have you ever noticed how frequently we humans tend to reduce animals we don't call pets to the categories of food, clothing, test subjects, and entertainment, (think zoos, marine world, rodeos, circuses)? If an animal doesn't fit into one of these categories, then we relegate them to the category of pest. Yes, we give them a label that implies humans have more right to the planet and resources than animals, and worse a label that "justifies" violence against other living beings. "Stay out of our yards, gardens, homes, parks, or else."

What to do if you find a bat? Locate a bat rescuer (Note to self: A Rescuer is not the same as an exterminator) Check out the bat cams! Learn more! For example - Why should we care about saving bats?

Somehow we've forgotten we share this planet with a multitude of other living beings who have as much right to be here as we do. It is this diversity of life that makes our planet both beautiful and mysterious. It is a ecosystem and when a species are wiped out, we are tipping the balance which has resounding effects that most of us can't begin to understand or predict.


All beings are sentient and have the fundamental right to live with dignity, respect and joy. As the current dominant species on earth, we have a responsibility to care for and share resources with the other species that call our planet home. We have a responsibility to be tolerant, compassionate and educated when it comes to our non-human cohabitants and the very earth itself.

I've seen numerous posts lately about people finding bats in their homes. I cringe when I think of the poor bats facing humans in an age where we are so disconnected from nature and expect instant results for every 'problem.' What if we turned the experience of finding a bat in our home upside down? What if in fact this were not a problem, but rather an opportunity to connect more deeply with nature, to learn more about the wildlife in our ecosystems, and to become better citizens of earth? What if we were able to flip fear and the idea that another animal is on 'our property' to compassion and researching how to humanely support releasing the bat, or any animal for that matter, unharmed from our homes?


This leads me to sharing my own bat adventure, when I found a juvenile bat hanging upside down from the coving in my family room. One morning in mid-September, I noticed a dark blotch up near the ceiling of my family room; a shape much to large to be a spider. I walked upstairs to get a closer look from the cat walk. Or in this case, should I say the 'bat walk.' I remember calling down to my husband, "honey, we have a bat in the house!" Many women would have been screaming this statement in terror, but given I'm a bit of an 'animal nerd' I said it with a sense of wonder. How the heck did that little guy end up in here? Like many humans, my husbands first two thoughts were to call an exterminator or find a really long broom handle. I said with great confidence and certainty, "don't worry, I'll take care of it."

Due to this unexpected visitor, I decided to work from home even though I’d just returned from 2 weeks off from an extended break from work. I spent the morning keeping an eye on the bat, not because I was afraid, but because I also had 2 dogs and 4 cats at that time. I quickly researched the topic humane removal of a bat from one’s home, (thank you Google).


I located a bat rescue in Michigan and learned how 95% of the bats have been wiped out due to something called "white nose disease." I also learned the vast majority of home owners kill, or gravely injure bats they find in their homes and my heart sank a little because we humans have become so disconnected from nature that we've lost respect for other life on the planet. I also found out that these are typically juvenile bats, approximately 4-6 weeks of age, that get into homes as they are learning to fly. I learned bats are as smart as dolphins, and that even though the mama’s tell their babies NOT to go into human homes, sometimes juvenile bats don’t listen because they are curious. Anyone with teenagers can relate to that! I learned you should never touch a bat with your bare hands (that one seemed like a no-brainer to me).

A mother short nosed fruit bat is resting while holding her young in a wildflower. This flying mammal has the scientific name Cynopterus minutus.

A mother short nosed fruit bat is resting while holding her young in a wildflower. This flying mammal has the scientific name Cynopterus minutus.


I was also quite surprised to learn that a grounded bat cannot fly and will die – they must be put into a tree, or lifted to something higher in order to take flight. I learned that you should never put a bat outside if it is cold, raining, or in the winter, as it is an absolute death sentence. Most importantly I learned how to HUMANELY release a bat from your house with EASE and I was excited to put my new knowledge to practice! Also, much to no one's surprise, I fell in love with my bat. I called my husband to excitedly share all of this amazing information, and he with his constant good humor helped me name our bat Count Batula.


Following the directions provided by the bat rescue, I waited until the sun went down, patiently hoping my bat would start moving soon. I comforted my cats and dogs closed up in a bedroom for 4+ hours as we waited for Count Batula to wake up. I called the bat rescuer back to inform her of my sleeping bat, wondering if he was okay.


She reinforced the humane and safe removal plan:

  • Make sure all the windows and doors to the outside were open (check)

  • Make sure all the doors on the interior of my home were shut (check)

  • All ceiling fans were off (check)

  • All pets were on lock-down (check)

  • The lights in the house were off, and the exterior lights were on (check)

  • I had a piece of cardboard and leather work gloves on just in case I needed to gently help my bat find the way out should he land on the floor or in the curtains.

Just as I was telling the rescuer on the other line I was worried my bat was sick or perhaps worse, I looked up and notice that he wasn't there. He was on the go! My husband and I watched with absolute awe and excitement as Count Batula flew silently around the house in circles, using his special bat super powers to look for a way out. He flew through the kitchen, through the dining room, over the catwalk, under the catwalk, using radar to seek out the openings we’d created after removing all exterior screens, and opening all the exterior doors.


I felt the cool wind on my face created by his magical wings as he flew past me, in the kitchen. I felt zero fear and 100% astonishment, utterly amazed that I heard nothing as this creature flew silently and gracefully, so close to me that I could feel a breeze from BAT WINGS! I am also amazed how something that appeared so tiny, suddenly looked so large once his wings were fully extended. You cannot pay for an experience like this - I was literally clapping and shouting with joy as he flew right out the front door. I went running after my bat like a little girl, watching as he disappeared into the shadows of the night. I laughed with glee as I shared the happy outcome with the rescuer, who was laughing with me on the other end of the line. She told me how grateful she was for a happy story, as she’d had 6 gravely injured juveniles that week by people who had hurt them trying to remove them from their homes with brooms. These magnificent creatures have the most delicate bone structures in their wings.

Orange nectar bat (Lonchophylla robusta) feeding at a flower, Costa Rica.

Orange nectar bat (Lonchophylla robusta) feeding at a flower, Costa Rica.

This is what joy is. This is what REAL LIFE is about. I was left feeling deep gratitude to have had the opportunity to be a part of this creature’s existence, and to learn how I can help by sharing what I learned with others. I wrote this article in hopes that someone will read it and find tolerance, respect, or even appreciation for the lives of these beautiful creatures. Sometimes we humans are going to find bats in our homes. I hope when you do you will be kind.

Got a bat in your belfry? Go here to find out what to do https://www.batcon.org/about-bats/bats-in-homes-buildings/ Looking for a local bat rehabilitation specialist or bat rescuer to provide you support with the safe and humane removal of a bat or bats? Bat World Sanctuary provides a nationwide list of wildlife rehabilitators

According to Batworld.org, "bats are clean, gentle and intelligent," and are vital to the many ecosystems in which they are found. They are like vacuum cleaners, eating millions of harmful bugs. Motherearthnews.com notes that "a single bat can eat up to 1,200 mosquito-sized insects every hour, and each bat usually eats 6,000 to 8,000 insects each night." We should be grateful for their appetite for mosquitoes, because not only does this make a backyard more comfortable, but it also protects us by eating insect-pests that destroy crops as well as insects that cause human disease. Bats are also pollinators, and they have a talent for dispersing seeds supporting biodiversity.


In fact, most of what we humans 'know' about bats falls into the urban legend bucket and is downright untrue. You can learn more about bat myths and facts, but just to get you started on the right path, please know that bats are clean, shy, gentle, and intelligent. They have been given a bad rap concerning rabies and current studies show that the rate of rabies in bat populations in North America is significantly less than previously understood. The truth is, less than one-half of one percent of bats contract rabies. Given more people die annually from contact with household pets than have died from contact with bats in all recorded history, you have more risk of contracting rabies from your own pets than you have from bats.


While bats don’t "carry rabies," these gentle creatures can catch the disease like any other mammal. Left alone in the wild to live in peace they fare quite well. However, at this time on the planet all wild animals can be more prone to disease due to the activities of humans destroying habitat, polluting the water, vegetation and air in critical ecosystems. They are also more prone to disease when captured or bred in captivity to be used as entertainment and food in the now world-famous wet markets across Asia. Perhaps respecting nature and treating fellow species with kindness and respect is a lesson mother nature is teaching us on an archetypal level. I sure hope we learn it - for the sake of all species surviving on the planet, not just the messiest, greediest and most inconsiderate species.

What will we do when there are no bats to eat the mosquitoes? When all the bees die due to poor habitat, changing weather and pesticides? Is having a perfect front lawn worth the cost of no bees or pollinators? What will life on earth be like when many of the animals we all knew as children, can only found in text books a few generations out? We are all part of an ecosystem. We need these creatures as much as they need us. Humans are destroying their habitat, and leaving most them without a place to live or food to survive. So, if some unexpected visitor shows up in your yard or your home, maybe take a moment to learn something about this creature. Find kindness in your heart, and take some time out of your busy schedule to honor its life. See the opportunity for adventure and education! Maybe instead of trying to rid your property of "pests," you'll feel inspired to create the right habitat and attract bats to your yard. Refrain from using pesticides, put up a bat house, and watch the little buggers eating all the mosquitoes in your yard each night.


I choose to live out my beliefs authentically, no shame or embarrassment because the best way to spread my message is by example. I've been teased by co-workers because I prefer to take bugs outside rather than letting people kill them. I’ve learned to be proud and loud about what I believe, because even the most hard-nosed humans can change – I’ve seen it over and over. The people who used to poke fun at me, now proudly share with me how they took a spider or some other bug outside instead of killing it, or they captured woodchucks or mice and relocated them without harming them.


This is what it is all about - recognizing that all living beings are sacred and choosing to open our eyes and truly seeing them. Personally I let my woodchucks stay on my property, along with my squirrels, birds, ducks, deer and chipmunks. My husband teases me that our front walk looks like a scene from a Disney movie. My wish for all of us is we find the magic, beauty, and joy in the creatures that reside in our yards and neighborhoods. When we reconnect with the natural world and all the beings that call planet earth home, we can find great healing. Naturing is wonderful, and nurturing nature is something we can all do to protect the amazing biodiversity and ecosystems on our planet.


To learn more about how you can get involved with bat conservation in Michigan visit Michigan's Department of Natural Resources.

Why do humans depict bats as frightening creatures who bite us? Bats are beautiful and gentle creatures who reduce mosquitos and pollinate our landscapes! I took one of the pictures out there intended to incite fear and added flowers because bats are lovely. Truth - neither picture is accurate, but mine celebrates the contributions this mammal makes as a pollinator and alludes to the truth.

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