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State wildlife officials are asking residents to report summer colonies of 10 or more bats found in their homes, garages or barns, as young bats begin to fly.
Colonies found in such places are typically — though not always — of the big brown bat species and are made up of four to 25 bats but can be bigger, said Thomas W. French, assistant director of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and responsible for the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.
Early trends suggest colonies are not as big as they were in last year’s resident reports, and that worries wildlife officials because of the possibility that even more bats may be affected by white-nose syndrome, the fungus that has killed more than a million bats in 16 states and Canada.
Bats consume huge numbers of insects, especially mosquitoes; thus, their mortality is of concern.
Six species of bats, including big and little brown bats, are being killed by the disease nationally. Little brown bats spend the winter in wet caves and mines, where the deadly fungus is found, while big brown bats tend to hibernate in attics and barns, where it is cold but dry, Mr. French said.
“We are trying to get some feel for where colonies still exist, how big and common they are and how many there are across the state,” Mr. French said. “We think they are all large brown bats.”
Wildlife officials have received about 50 responses so far this summer — about the same number as last summer — with reports of 200 colonies to date, many of them in northern Worcester County. But people seem to be reporting fewer bats, a worrisome trend, Mr. French said.
“It looks like even the big brown bat has declined somewhat,” said Mr. French. “Some people note they used to have 30 and now have five. We know some big brown bats wintered in caves and mines, and they are just as susceptible (to the disease as small brown bats).”
While he thinks most large brown bats still hibernate in buildings and are safe from the fungus, a larger number than thought may be wintering over in caves, he said. The big cave hibernating site in Massachusetts is the Chester mine; where as many as 8,000 to 10,000 bats wintered before 2008, now there are just 14, Mr. French said.
When summer bat colonies are discovered, people often call the state for help getting rid of them. (The state can’t help.) Bats are beneficial to yards and not necessarily bad for attics as long as they are not in living quarters, Mr. French said. Sometimes bats can be safely assisted out of living areas by a homeowner or resident — but never pick one up with bare fingers or hands, he warned. Other times, a pest control company should be called.
“It’s OK to evict bats, but you must do it in a nonlethal way,” said Mr. French. All bats are protected; it is a violation to kill one, he said.
Colonial Pest Control Inc. of Worcester uses a common method to rid bats from houses and buildings. Plastic sleeves known as Constantine devices are a safe and effective way to get bats out of an attic or home and prevent them from returning. The device is a one-way door installed around the point of entry, through a small hole in the roof or sides of the house. At night, bats are free to leave their roost but are unable to get back in, blocked by a net or door that closes shut after their exit.
After all the bats have left, the device is taken out and the holes sealed.
“I haven’t seen much of a decrease (in the number of bat-related calls). There is always going to be a bat in somebody’s house, but it depends on the climate. I’ve been doing this 13 years, and I haven’t seen any major change,” said Scott R. Wintser, wildlife control specialist at Colonial Pest Control.
Colonial usually gets five or six bat-related calls a week. Mr. Winster has seen no evidence of WNS in bats he has encountered.
Christopher Boulmetis of Critter Control, also of Worcester, hasn’t noticed a change in bat-related incidents either.
“I’ve been with Critter Control for about 11 years, and I haven’t noticed a drop in bats within houses at all; we’re on track,” said Mr. Boulmetis.
Mr. Boulmetis always recommends calling a professional rather than dealing with the problem on your own.
“If you find any animal in your house and you throw it back out into the wild, there is a good chance you and everyone in the house is going to need to get a series of rabies shots the next day,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t even feel a bat’s bite or scratch. It may just even look like a bug bite. If the animal is captured, we can send it out to get tested for rabies.”
Testing for rabies means killing the bat. The only way scientists can find evidence of the virus is by looking at the animal’s brain.
Debra Cushman, of 25 Hunter Circle in Shrewsbury, recently got a first-hand experience in dealing with bats.
“If there are flying rodents in my house, it’s just not a good thing. I didn’t want the bat dead, just out of my house,” Mrs. Cushman said.
Mrs. Cushman, her two children and her husband spent the morning and most of a July afternoon in the hospital getting rabies shots. She had noticed the bat the night before, perched on a kitchen wall. She woke up her husband to confirm what the animal was and the bat was thrown onto the ground outside. It flew away soon after.
Because of WNS, the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is proposing to list all four Massachusetts cave bats as endangered, for a total five (including the already endangered but not seen in Massachusetts since 1939 Indiana bat), said Mr. French. The proposal, a regulatory change that would need the governor’s approval and a public hearing, would also cover the little brown bat, small-footed bat, Northern long-eared bat and tri-colored bat.
Credits: By James Niedzinski - NewsTelegram.com