Bats!

I love bats. Especially now that we live on a property that includes a perpetually wet, somewhat swampy area, bats are wonderful for controlling the massive mosquito population. But even in Illinois, I would enjoy sitting outside at night and watching the bats fly back and forth past our farm security light, gorging themselves on the myriad insects drawn to that area. Every farm should be blessed to have a bat colony somewhere on it. It’s hard to think of a more effective pesticide-free means of insect control. In fact, some people have even gone into business selling bat houses (unfortunately, bats not included), so you can attract a colony to your property.

So, bats are terrific…as long as the bats stay where they are supposed to. That was decidedly not the case last Saturday evening, when our family returned home from a visit with Mrs Yeoman Farmer’s father. I unlocked the back door, and then returned to the van to retrieve some things while MYF and Homeschooled Farm Girl made their way into the house and then went upstairs. The next thing I knew, both MYF and HFG were running back out to the porch at full speed.

“It’s a bat!” HFG shouted.

“There’s a bat in the house!” MYF echoed. “I need you to take care of this, because we cannot take the kids in there until it’s gone. We might need to drive back and spend the night at my dad’s house.”

I agreed to do battle with the bat, but needed an essential tool. “Where could I find a tennis racket?” I asked.

MYF dispatched Homeschooled Farm Boy to the barn to find one. As I stood outside on the porch, looking in the glass pane of the back door, I could see the bat flying laps around the downstairs portion of the house. But it would disappear from time to time, so I suspected that it was also flying up the stairs and all over the rest of the house. “I sure hope it doesn’t get stuck in a closet or something,” I commented.

Once HFB delivered the tennis racket, MYF had all three kids troop out to my office to wait. I took a deep breath, stepped through the back door, put on a pair of gloves, and tried to summon up all my courage. Standing there with the tennis racket, I felt like a knight getting ready to ride into battle.

Suddenly, a big, black, bird-like thing came hurtling out of the darkened front room, flying toward me, but maneuvering as crazily as a Japanese kamikaze pilot trying to penetrate enemy flack. I swiped at it with my tennis racket, but the bat easily turned and sped through the kitchen and back toward the front part of the house. Getting a bright idea, I propped the back door wide open; driving the bat out of the house would be the very best solution.

I cautiously made my way to the front part of the house, turning on every light and keeping my eyes wide open for any sign of the bat. Just as I propped open the front door, the bat appeared again and began flying toward the back. I chased it, but right before the bat reached the back door…MYF appeared there, and the bat again turned and flew crazily through the kitchen.

Together, MYF and I prowled through the downstairs of the house. Once we were convinced it was clear, I crept up the stairs. Unfortunately, I told MYF, all the bedroom doors were open. The bat could be anywhere! Suddenly, it came flying out of the boys’ room and straight toward me (or as straight as a bat can fly — it was still looking a lot like a crazed kamikaze). I swiped at it a couple of times, but it disappeared into HFG’s room.

I called this news down to MYF. “Shut that door, so we can trap it!” she shouted back. But just as I began heading for that door, the bat came hurtling out. MYF was coming up the stairs, and the bat hovered for just a moment trying to decide which direction to go next. That one instant of hesitation was all I needed: I dealt a massive overhand serve with the tennis racket, connecting and sending the bat into the carpet with a heavy THUD. “Got it!” I exclaimed. Relief, that we would be spending the night in our own house and not driving a half hour back to my father-in-law’s, swept through me.

“It might only be stunned,” MYF cautioned. Glad to be wearing gloves, I carefully picked the bat up. It seemed very dead to me, but I figured we shouldn’t take any chances. I took it straight to the garbage can, deposited the bat, and made sure the lid was securely fastened. We told the kids the bat was dead, and they all cheered as we returned to the house.

How did I know to use a tennis racket? I have MYF, and her father, to thank for that. When MYF was a girl, they lived for a time in a house that had bats in the attic. On several occasions, bats would get into the living portion of the house. Their family found that bats, with their radar navigation, could easily steer around brooms and other soild weapons. But a tennis racket was different — the bat’s radar largely penetrated through the webbing, allowing the human a much greater shot at a direct hit.

Did I want to kill the bat? No. I want to emphasize that my first preference was to get the bat out of the house, because I greatly value the contribution bats make to pest control. There are non-lethal ways of trapping bats, but given our particular circumstance those did not look like they would be successful on Saturday.

For those of you thinking about moving to the country, make sure you think about bats. They can be intimidating at first, especially if you’ve watched too many vampire movies. But they are an integral part of country life, and ought to be fostered. Just make sure you’re prepared to take action if one of them finds his way into a place where he really shouldn’t be.

Going Batty

Last night, it was approaching 11pm. I was nearly sound asleep, as were Forest Puppy and Homeschooled Farm Girl. As I lost consciousness in the master bedroom, Mrs Yeoman Farmer was in the boys’ room getting Big Brother tucked in.

Suddenly, the master bedroom door flew open. MYF announced, “We have a bat in the house!”

Groggily, I sat up and tried to assess the situation. “Huh?” I groaned.

“A bat,” she repeated. “In the boys’ room! I saw it come in!”

I groaned again, dragged myself out of bed (having gotten just enough sleep to ensure I’d be wide awake for a long time), and dressed. Remembering a story MYF told me once from her childhood, I asked if we had any tennis rackets; Big Brother assured me that we did, and told me exactly where I could find them in the barn.

The tennis racket idea is simple: you can’t hit a flying bat with a broom, because the bat will sense that large object and change directions at the last minute. But a tennis racket is entirely different: the bat’s radar (or sonar, or whatever) goes right through…so he continues on course and dies without ever knowing what Grand Slammed him.

Note that I have nothing against bats. We had them in Illinois, and I’ve seen them flying around inside our barn in Michigan. They’ll reportedly eat hundreds of pounds of mosquitoes in a night, and after watching them circling our security light in Illinois I believe it. And I’m not advocating breaking any local laws protecting bats. I’m just saying that when there’s a rodent in my house that’s possibly carrying rabies…I’m getting my tennis racket first and asking questions, um, never.

MYF showed me where she first spotted the bat; apparently, it managed to squeeze in through a closed window, and plopped on the floor. Of course, by now there was no sign of it anywhere in the room. Dressed in gloves and armed with two tennis rackets, I stood guard as MYF moved Forest Puppy to our bed and then began searching the room. Naturally, we didn’t turn up any trace of the bat no matter how hard we looked. The dang things can squeeze into any little place, and for all we knew it was inside the baseboards or under a dresser.

We had Big Brother sleep on an empty bunk in his sister’s room, and we sealed off the boys’ room. In retrospect, under ideal conditions, we should have left windows open all night to let the bat out — but my primary concern was not allowing more bats in. And, as it turns out, it was better the windows remained shut: we got quite a bit of rain overnight, and the carpet would’ve been soaked.

This morning, there was still no sign of the little critter. I checked all around the eves outside the window in question, but couldn’t find traces of a bat colony he might have strayed from. In the meantime, the boys’ room remains shut tight. After nightfall, we’ll see if the bat emerges and starts looking for a way out. If not, we’ll repeat last night’s sleeping arrangements until we’re sure he’s either gone or has likely starved to death.