This time of year homeowners may encounter a bat in their home.
“It’s bat crazy,” Charles Lewis, Barnstable animal control officer, said. “In the last month and a half I have averaged one bat [call] a day.”
Experts agree that it is no cause for alarm, and that it is important not to harm them because they are key animals in the local ecosystem, eating tons of insects each night.
“We reassure folks not to panic, thinking that they will be attacked,” Emily Stolarski, communication specialist for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said. “It’s not as you were told as a kid that they will fly in your hair.”
She said that one big brown bat will eat 14 to 15 tons of insects, such as mosquitos, each summer.
Certain species, such as little brown bats, search out warm places like attics in which to roost and raise their young during the summer months. Mr. Lewis says he most often encounters little brown and big brown bats, which are about two times as large.
“If they are flying around and find a hole into a nice safe attic, they will take advantage of it, just as if they find a hole in a tree,” Ms. Stolarski said.
Later in the summer as it gets warmer, young bats may become lost in a house searching for a cooler area or en route to and from feeding through open vents, Mr. Lewis said.
Bats may also slide into a house through an open door as they follow bugs attracted to a patio light or indoor light.
Currently their role in the local ecosystem as nocturnal bug eaters is threatened because four out of the nine species in Massachusetts are endangered due to a fungal disease called white nose syndrome.
Many species hibernate in the winter in caves in Massachusetts, or they migrate south. The damp conditions foster the fungal infection, which creates a white film on their nose.
Ms. Stolarski said that state biologists were monitoring a cave in Chester that was home to about 10,000 bats in 2008. The following year the number dropped to only 14 bats. At this point scientists do not know how to stop the disease.
For this reason, state scientists are monitoring them closely and ask residents to report if they find significant colonies in or around their homes and also to not harm them.
The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife website offers information on how to remove individual bats and colonies from the home, and local animal control can refer homeowners to businesses that remove bats without harming them as well.
Mr. Lewis has a system to remove bats safely. He says that they will often fly around and then get tired. When they land, he throws a towel over them and removes them wearing a thick pair of gloves or puts a coffee can over them and slips a cover underneath to contain the bat.
“They are fun to work with,” Mr. Lewis said. “People get paranoid but they don’t bother me.”
Bats can carry rabies, so they should not be touched. If there is a chance that a person or pet has had contact with the bat, it may be sent out for rabies testing, Mr. Lewis said.
Massachusetts Department of Public Health recommends that if a bat is found in a room with sleeping children or an incapacitated adult, or if someone wakes up with a bat in the room, they should consult their doctor about the rabies vaccine. In a 2013 report, the department showed that about 2 percent of the 1,045 bats submitted for testing that year carried rabies.
Lauren M. Leveque of Woods Hole encountered a bat in the middle of the night in her home a few years ago. They were unable to capture it for testing, so as a precaution the pediatrician recommended that her three children receive the vaccine. The experience has not soured her opinion of bats, however; her family plans to set up bat houses in their yard, so bats will take up residence in the neighborhood.
“We love bats and appreciate their role in the ecosystem,” Ms. Leveque wrote in an e-mail. “We’ve brought our kids out at night to watch them swoop overhead, so cool.”