Gene Logsdon and Friends

A Barn Full of Bats

In Gene Logsdon Blog on September 28, 2011 at 8:05 am

From GENE LOGSDON

Since I often think of my barn as my church, it is altogether proper to admit that I have bats in my belfry. The hayloft is full of these furry little phantoms of the night. It happened entirely by accident as is true of so many good things on our farm. When we built the barn, we nailed triangular plywood plates on both sides of all the rafters where they met at the peak of the roof. (See photo.) The space between these plates, which is the thickness of the 2 by 6 rafters, must be just right for Brown bats because they soon took up residence there which means we have about twenty bat houses across the whole roof peak. The bats hang in that space in clusters, usually upside down. Because of them, we’ve rarely suffered much from mosquitoes, even though the barn is surrounded by woodland. The rain barrel that catches water off the barn roof is almost always full of mosquito larvae in summer but only on rare occasion do mosquitoes swarm around my head, and never for any prolonged period of time. The bats get them.

Bats are the most effective control for mosquitoes we have, say entomologists. An interesting article about them in the current (Fall 2011) issue of the Draft Horse Journal by Judy Brodland points out how blessed bats are in horse barns since mosquitoes can drive horses nearly crazy buzzing and biting around their velvety soft noses. I don’t know how the experts did the counting, but a bat can eat some 3000 insects in one night, they say. That’s a lot of mosquito bites that never happen.

I am pleased to say, after thirty years of sharing our barn loft with twenty to forty bats every summer, that I have never once been attacked by a bat, let alone contracted rabies, nor has any farm animal gotten rabies or suffered any kind of poisoning from bat manure, nor I have ever seen a sick bat, nor has a bat gotten tangled in my hair (well, I used to have hair). How these myths continue despite so much expert literature to the contrary never ceases to amaze me. Bats look fearsome, and three kinds in Central and South America do suck blood (from animals not humans) so I guess the superstitions will go on. The incidence of rabies in bats is so rare that even cats get the disease more often and that is a rare thing too. Rabies usually shows up in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes and unvaccinated dogs. Bats do not “carry” rabies; they get it just like other wild animals do. Just for perspective, dogs kill about 32 people every year; bats account for about one human death per year. You are much more likely to die of lightning.

I used to worry about bat manure (guano) because of something I read years ago saying it could transmit some disease to sheep. For awhile I would sweep up the guano that fell on the loft floor under our accidental bat houses so it wouldn’t get in the hay. But Brodland in the article referred to above says that is “a silly myth” too. Guano in fact is great organic fertilizer and if you’ve tried to buy some lately you know that it is expensive too.

One thing I can tell you for sure about bats that I doubt you will read anywhere else. Our hay loft doubles as a basketball court and bats do not like to watch basketball games. The thump of the basketball ricocheting around the loft disturbs them exceedingly. They dart around and squeak what I presume are unprintable bat words at us for disturbing their peace. But they finally get used to the noise and crouch in their houses staring disconsolately out at us like Cleveland Cavalier fans watching their team lose yet another game.

Bats do sometimes dart at humans. That’s because warm blooded animals and the carbon dioxide we expel in our breathing attract mosquitoes and the bats know it. They aren’t diving at us. They are after mosquitoes.
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  1. Nothing will make my wife run in the house faster than to have a bat swoop down toward her. I’ve never been able to wash away her fear.
    As kids, we used to throw small rocks up in the air to see how close we could get them to chase them down towrds us.
    If you happen to have a bat resting in your house, the best way to remove him is to stick your “gloved” hand in a bag and grab him. Turn the bag inside out with the bat in the bag. Take him out side, undo the bag, and let him go.

  2. “Since I often think of my barn as my church, it is altogether proper to admit that I have bats in my belfry. The hayloft is full of these furry little phantoms of the night. It happened entirely by accident as is true of so many good things on our farm.”

    What a great opening to this article… thanks again for brightening our day! I’ve never given bats much thought mainly because we don’t see many, but I feel a little bat deprived now.

  3. Please send any extra of those little cuties up to Lindsey for me. The skeeters around here think I’m their personal blood bank and have been making numerous withdrawals!

  4. To my dismay, my town has an old-timer drive around every god-forsaken street in a little truck outfitted with a motorized chemical sprayer, attempting to control the mosquito population every Summer. He just drives down the street spraying indiscriminately into the air. I’d rather brave mosquito bites than breathe that trash. Any Summer afternoon that happens to be cool enough (low 90s) to enjoy in Alabama, well, guess who’s crusin’ down the road to ruin my porch-sittin’? The town sprayer. I keep hoping he runs that damned truck into a ditch and that the town doesn’t have enough money to replace it. Or maybe the kudzu will haul the truck away in the middle of the night and tie it to the train tracks?

  5. Kudzu comes to life and hauls off the sprayer truck… now there is an idea for a horror film. I would watch that. I can see the title in those ’50s fonts — INVASIVE SPECIES…

  6. David, I actually wrote a book you may have heard of titled “1000 Ways to Eliminate Kudzu and Why None of Them Work.” OK, well, I’ve never really written a book. Perhaps I should give that one a shot, though. Gene is too busy writing about trees to care about hijacking my kudzu book idea. Gene have you ever seen kudzu? I didn’t see any last time I was in Ohio. Never mind. I’ll bring you some. It makes for a cheap, durable fence that doesn’t require stretching tools or even posts. You’ll love it–even more than bats–and bats are pretty swell.

  7. If you lived in England you wouldn’t even be able to collect the droppings for your garden. Bats are very highly protected (Hooray!) and appreciated by all those who don’t have to leave their home because the ceilings are about to fall in from the weight of guano (spelling??) in their roof.

    We have a colony of pipistrels near our house and I lie on the back lawn watching them whenever they are there. I am not typical. I don’t understand fear of them at all. They are so agile and brilliant. I just wish they would land so I could have a closer look. Lucky you!

  8. W.A. Oh I have had lots of fun writing about kudzu even though it does not grow up here. I especially like to repeat the (supposedly documented) fact that kudzu has been known to pull down small buildings left unguarded in Tenn. I use kudzu as an example of why sheep are so great: they eat the stuff. I will not be able to resist repeating your story but I’ll give you credit. Your book sounds like right down my alley. Gene Logsdon

  9. We have two old sheds that have always housed some bats. They’ve been very welcome because we also have incredible swarms of mosquitoes in the summer. This year, I noticed that both sheds were hosts to screech owl nests and I haven’t seen any sign of bats in either. I wonder if the owls decided that the bats were a good source of food for their young?

  10. I reaally love bats. Love them.

  11. Thanks, again, Mr. Logsdon, for another timely post. The pond at our school farm is teeming with mosquito larvae, and parents are looking askance at me and muttering about West Nile… guess it’s time to have the kids build a bat house!

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