Idaho bats

The Townsend’s big-eared bat is one of several species Ross Winton and fellow Idaho Department of Fish and Game researchers identified in southern Idaho.

COURTESY OF BECKY ABEL

TWIN FALLS — It could be the leathery wings. Or maybe the tiny claws. Or perhaps even the pig-like snout.

There’s something about bats that elicits fear in some people. But these small creatures rarely bite or scratch, and their insect-eating abilities have been credited to be worth $313 million annually to the agricultural industry.

To prevent the indiscriminate killing of bats, Idaho Fish and Game hopes to help people understand the creatures’ value to Idaho’s ecosystem and why you shouldn’t touch one — or kill it — when you see it.

“We’re trying to find ways that bats can live safely with people,” State Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator Rita Dixon said.

Part of that is homeowner education. Idaho Fish and Game recommends that if you find a bat on your property, first consider the following:

1. What’s it doing?

If the bat is roosting — hanging upside down by its toes — this is normal bat behavior. Unless it’s indoors causing a safety issue, or has contacted you, your pets or your children, it’s best to leave it alone.

“Chances are, it’s going to be gone the next day,” Dixon said.

Bats have also been known to fly during the day, so don’t let this alarm you as a strange behavior.

2. Does it appear sick or injured?

If it is roosting, it’s probably fine. But if you find a bat on the ground, either clearly injured or not moving, Fish and Game may be able to help it.

“Sometimes, a bat just needs a little R&R,” Dixon said.

Most importantly: Don’t touch any bat with your bare hands. You can protect the bat with a shoebox or safely scoop it up into a covered box with air holes, using a thick piece of paper or cardboard.

If you find five or more dead bats at the same place at the same time, contact South-Central Public Health District at 208-737-5900.

3. Has there been a rabies exposure?

There are multiple things that could constitute a “rabies exposure.” Firstly, did you come into any physical contact with the bat, including bites and scratches? Were you in a deep sleep in a room with a bat before you woke and discovered it? Was the bat with an unattended child or an intoxicated person?

Keep in mind that if the answer to any of the questions was yes, you should contact South-Central Public Health District. If an exposure occurred, the bat will have to be euthanized and tested for rabies – and the person may need to undergo post-exposure rabies vaccinations. “Teach your children to leave bats alone,” Dixon said.

Bats are protected in Idaho, so do not attempt to kill one yourself.

4. Are your pets vaccinated?

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If there is any chance the bat came into contact with your cats or dogs, call your veterinarian, Dixon said. He or she should know if the pet is current on its rabies vaccinations or if it will need to be quarantined.

Again, if the bat contacted your pets, the bat will need to be captured, euthanized and tested. You can capture it yourself, but don’t kill it.

5. If the bat needs to be removed, here’s how to do so safely.

If the bat is in your house, you can find a cardboard box and poke small air holes in the sides. If you want, you can stuff a T-shirt inside that the bat can perch on.

Wearing leather gloves, approach the bat and place the box over it. You can then use a sheet of thick paper to scoop the bat into the box, then cover the top with the paper. You should then seal the lid of the box with tape.

If the bat needs to be inspected, wait for someone to arrive. Otherwise, you can set it free outside, preferably in a tree or bushes where it can hunker down until it is ready to fly away.

If you find bats in unoccupied areas such as a shed, it’s best not to exclude them unless the maternity season has ended.

During maternity season, from April through August, mother bats nurse their pups, which cannot fly. If you try to exclude them during those months, the mothers will be trapped outside, the pups will die and there will be a foul odor.

Idaho Fish and Game asks that you wait until the bats leave at the end of August, and then seal cracks and vents to prevent their return. New sound deterrent devices that upset bats’ echolocation can also be used.

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