By Margaret Gerber, Director of Conservation
Every spring, summer, and fall I enjoy sitting outside at dusk and searching the early night sky for a comforting sight – the wings and unique zig zags of the only flying mammal, the bat.
Bats are amazing creatures that are found across a variety of different landscapes here in Maine and play a vital role in supporting the health of our ecosystems. There are 8 bat species found in Maine, and more than half of them hibernate here during the winter rather than migrate south. Although we don’t witness the majority of their activity that takes place after the sun goes down, bats are hard at work all around the world each night eating tons of insects, pollinating flowers in warmer climates, and spreading seeds that grow new plants and trees. Insect-eating bats even benefit the economy by providing a significant pest-control service, saving the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year according to a study published in Science magazine.
Given that five species of bats in Maine hibernate, it isn’t uncommon to experience a run in with a bat that has temporarily taken up residence indoors throughout the year. This summer on a particularly rainy night, I awoke to find my cat chasing a bat around the kitchen. Armed with a sheet and butterfly net, the cat behind a closed door and another door open to the outside for the bat, my partner and I worked to usher the bat back outdoors, but not without receiving the tiniest bite marks one has ever seen during my partner’s attempt to free the bat when it became caught in the sheet before flying out the door and into the night. As with many animals, if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone, and the true is same for healthy bats who are highly beneficial to the environment and people. The advantages of having them around far outweigh any problems you might have with them, and for those wondering, after 17 shots (just to be safe), my partner remains rabies free, and we recently installed a bat house near our house to provide an alternative shelter for our neighborhood bats when they return next year.
Should you find a bat in your home, it’s recommended to capture the bat if you’ve come into contact with one and have it tested by the Public Health Lab for rabies. Approximately 4 out of 100 bats tested are positive for rabies each year in Maine and rabies have also been found in raccoons, foxes, skunks, and woodchucks in Maine in 2023. If you detect a bat in your home in a crawl space or attic during the winter when it is hibernating, it’s recommended by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to allow them to rear their pups and exit the structure at the end of the summer before closing off any entrance holes and provide the bats with a bat house for when they return next year.
To learn more about coexisting with bats and benefiting from their presence, click here.
While nothing can compare to watching bats fly and feed on a warm summer’s night, many people start to think of bats as the days get shorter and Halloween draws near. It’s no mistake that Bat Week, an annual and international celebration designed to raise awareness about the need for bat conservation, falls during the last week of October each year. Bat Week is a great opportunity to learn more about bats close to home and around the world through events, educational activities for both kids and adults, and resources to help spread the word about why bats matter and what threats they face year round. To learn more about Bat Week and its events, resources, and educational activities, visit https://batweek.org/.
To learn more about bats here in Maine, click here.