In early May, I went outside to tell my husband that a bat was flying around our living room.
He told me it was probably a bird, since one was nesting right outside our front door and might have sneaked in. When we went back inside, there was no sign of the bat/bird, so we let it go.
The next morning, however, something was lying in the hallway. I nudged it gently, and our intruder spread its wings and showed its teeth. It was definitely a bat, and outside it went.
The bat was just a fleeting visitor -- or so we thought, until last month. Several indoor bat sightings later, we discovered we have a small colony living in our attic.
We like bats, actually, and are thrilled that they live around us, decimating the mosquito population and otherwise being part of a healthy environment. We just don't want them living in our house. So they will be (professionally) encouraged to move out and stay out.
In the meantime, we have bats, and occasionally they encroach on our living space. Our dog sees them as a curiosity; my husband has no problem waving them outdoors; and I did what I always do when confronted with something new: I read up on them. Almost certainly, our bats are either little brown bats or big brown bats. (I didn't attempt to measure our intruder's wing span: 10 inches versus 13.) Both like forested areas near lakes, are common in Ohio and will set up colonies in buildings.
They are insectivores, so in addition to gobbling up mosquitoes, they also like mayflies, midges, gnats and other insects that love to torment us at water's edge.
What's more, according to Bat Conservation International (batcon.org), some species are great at dispersing seeds and are critical pollinators for a wide variety of plants. Their droppings (guano) can be harvested and used as rich fertilizer.
But bats are maligned and misunderstood, and have been associated in popular culture with rodents, blindness, vampires, disease and a desire to entangle themselves in your hair.
So I'll let these bat facts debunk the old myths:
* Bats are not rodents. They are mammals of the order chiroptera, with 1,054 bat species worldwide. (Thirteen species live in Ohio.) However, many people through history have believed bats to be rodents, giving them misleading names such as fledermaus -- German for "flying mouse."
Bats, incidentally, are the only mammals that can fly. Flying squirrels can glide, but they cannot flap their "wings" and take off.
* Bats are not blind; in fact, some species see very well, although night darkness can limit their vision. Many species also "see" with their ears, using echolocation to avoid obstacles as they fly after their prey in the night sky. Because of this, I didn't feel threatened as our bat flew around the room. Its only goal was to get out of the house, not to rearrange my hair.
* Only three species depend on blood as their sole source of food, and two of those drink only bird blood. The third infrequently attacks humans; all three are found only in Central and South America. Ohioans should feel safe, even on Halloween.
* The fear of getting rabies from bats is overblown. Bats are less likely to carry rabies than skunks, raccoons, coyotes, foxes and unvaccinated pets. However, the possibility exists, and bats can get feisty -- and bite -- when handled. It's best to leave them alone.
Today, bats are threatened by a fungal infection called white-nose syndrome, and the little brown and big brown bats have been heavily impacted. The infection is spread from bat to bat, especially in the winter when bats are hibernating closely together.
Although researchers have found a way to treat it, there is concern that the remedy could accidentally destroy benign or beneficial fungi. Let's hope a cure takes hold, and that these insect-eating, pollinating, fertilizer-producing and seed-dispersing creatures continue to enrich the ecosystem. I don't want bats in my house, but I do want them around.
The Delaware County Bird Club's topic this month is bats. The group, open to anyone, will meet at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at Preservation Parks' Deer Haven Park, 4183 Liberty Road.
Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.