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The Roving Sportsman… Bat Facts

I recall very well the four homes where I lived with my parents and two siblings as I grew up in Lycoming County from the late 1940s up through the early ’60s.

Initially, we stayed in the upstairs level of my Grandparents’ home “up the ‘Sock,” just north on Route 87 beyond Snyder’s farm. Our first home “on our own” was on Arch Street in Montoursville — across from the high school. It wasn’t long until we bored of city living, and we moved to a rental home in busy downtown Farragut. The most formative years, other than those at my Grandparents’ home, occurred next when my parents purchased a farm property with an older house and 45 acres at the base of Katie Jane Mountain that was surrounded by other larger farm properties. As a country boy who loved the outdoors, I was in Heaven!

All four houses had numerous things in common. They were all built in the late 1800s to early 1900s. The wood floors creaked when you walked on them; all were heated by monstrous coal furnaces, and the only “central air” occurred when you opened several windows and allowed a cross breeze to cool the house, generally at night. Each was two stories with a full basement and an attic. And it was in the attic area of each and every one of these homes that a crack, a seam, or a slight opening existed that allowed the occasional visitation by a curious BAT!

In those days, bats were numerous, and it was not all that unusual that one would be flying about after dark inside the house. Nonetheless, it was never a desirable encounter since people generally thought that bats carried rabies and other diseases or that one of them might just be a blood-sucking vampire bat! Either way, any such undesirable visitor was caught and thrown out the back door to rejoin his fellow bats outside.

Today, the story of bats is, unfortunately, quite different. Their numbers have plummeted. Because there simply aren’t the vast numbers of bats there once were, the once rare occurrence of a bat inside a home simply doesn’t seem to happen at all these days. So, what is the story?

Pennsylvania is the host of 9 species of bats, including the little brown bat, the big brown bat, and the Indiana bat. Six of the species hibernate throughout our state in abandoned mines and caves, while three species go south for the winter (hmm, kind of like our “snowbirds!”). Bats generally breed in the summer and give birth the following year in late spring or early summer, with one or two young being the normal litter size and up to four on occasion. The young are called “pups” and are almost adult size within six weeks. All bats are insect eaters and have a voracious appetite. A bat will generally consume up to 25 percent of its body weight in a single feeding spree, which can consist of approximately 2,000 insects per night! Some bat species are estimated to consume nearly a million insects per year per bat!

But now the bad news. In New York State in 2006, the first discovery of WNS (White-nose syndrome) occurred. It was so named because a white fungus appears around the nose and on the muzzle, as well as other body parts, of hibernating bats. Unfortunately, there is a high mortality rate among the bats that contract the disease, and it is easily spread while the bats are hibernating in the close confines of caves and mines. Today, WNS is present throughout Pennsylvania and the eastern United States and has killed an estimated 5.7 million bats.

If you are simply not a fan of bats, you may think that WNS is a good thing. But, it is never beneficial to mess with the balance of nature, as will happen as their population decreases and the insect population increases accordingly. Currently, they are a huge controlling factor for the number of unwanted insects, such as the mosquito.

While bats may be considered by many as being unwanted house guests, they truly are good neighbors. The next time you happen to discover one darting through your house one evening, try to flush it to the outside, where it can gobble up more of those pesky mosquitoes!