Creature Feature: Little Brown Bat

Halloween is upon us bringing thoughts of spooky and creepy things like jack-o-lanterns, black cats, and bats! But did you know that little brown bats are very important to healthy ecosystems? These little critters eat insects, LOTS of insects! They can eat over 1,000 insects in an hour so you can see how they are very important to farmers as they protect plants from pests and reducing the need for pesticides.
Little brown bats are native to Iowa and most of the nation, but the population is declining. In fact, they are an endangered species of mouse-eared microbats. It has a small body size, about the length of an adult’s thumb and the weight of 3 or 4 pennies, but its wingspan makes this little guy seem huge! The wingspan can be from 8 to 11 inches! If one happens to appear in your house, you might not notice his long, glossy fur that can be golden, reddish, olive, or dark brown; or his dark little face, and his darling little mouselike ears, while running and screaming, covering your head with your eyes closed. (More on this happenstance later.)
These little critters roost in trees, rock outcrops, and structures like bridges during the summer. They need to live where there are insects to eat, and clean water. Their lifespan is usually around six or seven years and give birth to one pup a year. During the winter they hibernate in buildings, (sometimes your attic, see the paragraph above), abandoned mine shafts, and caves throughout Iowa, and especially in southern and eastern Iowa.
If you were to find a bat in your house, STAY CALM. They want out as much as you want them out. First to remove the little guy, (if everyone has not already run screaming from the room), get everyone out of the room. Second, turn off the ceiling fan and all the lights. Turning off the lights will help the bat find a way out as they are nocturnal and can see very well in the dark. Third, make sure the bat is closed off in one room so it will be easier to find a way out. Open any windows and screens, this will help the bat can find it’s way out without any help from you.
HOWEVER, and remember to STAY CALM, if the bat cannot find it’s way out you may have to catch and release. First never handle the bat with bare hands. Wear thick work gloves-but not cotton, as most bats can bite through cotton. Bats will most likely land somewhere they can hang-behind curtains, upholstered furniture, on hanging clothes, or in house plants. Carefully place a plastic tub or similar container over them. Gently work a piece of cardboard or stiff paper under the container, (this works for big creepy spiders as well), trapping the bat inside. Now you are ready to release the bat outdoors. Because most bats cannot take flight from the ground, tilt the container or allow the bat to climb a tree trunk or other vertical surface.
Now I know you’re probably thinking, “But what about RABIES!?”, you should be happy to know little brown bats rarely test positive for rabies, however, if you are bitten seek medical help immediately.
Bat numbers are declining in Iowa because of loss of habitat. Work to improve bat habitat in Jefferson County Park, Gantz-Hewitt Timber and Whitham Woods will be started soon. This work will include clearing invasive brush undergrowth including but not restricted to Bush Honeysuckle.
So, I hope this helps take the creepiness away from bats…stop running! STAY CALM! Unless you are an insect, then you need to worry.
Written by Diana Flynn