The call came at an inopportune time, just as I’d put about four pounds of chicken on the grill, and donned my imaginary outdoor chef hat.
It was my mom. And while she wasn’t frothing at the mouth (a bit of foreshadowing), she was rather worked up.
She’d found a bat. In her house. On the floor. And after my sister, who was visiting, made a few calls, she learned that bats lying on floors are not common. Heck, they might even be rabid.
And while the bat was also not frothing at the mouth — a sure sign of rabies, at least from what I remember after reading “Cujo” — it was worthy of concern.
Unfortunately, I had a pile of chicken that I was trying not to burn, and was not able to head over to Brewer to deal with the pesky varmint, which may or may not have been dead already.
“I’ll call a game warden and ask what you should do,” I told my mom. “Tell Lori [my sister] to find a pair of sturdy gloves … I don’t think they’ll want you touching the bat … just in case.”
A benefit of writing about the outdoors for a living is that when outdoorsy problems arrive — like bats in your belfry — I have plenty of knowledgeable sources available on speed dial.
“So, here’s what you’ve got to do,” my game warden source told me. “Cover the bat with a towel, then step firmly — don’t stomp on it — and count to 100, until it dies.”
My sister will love this part, I thought, knowing that she’d be the one in charge of the bat-stomping. Oops. Not stomping. Stepping.
Then it got worse. What I heard the warden say was, “Then, put it in the crisper drawer of the fridge, and deliver it to our headquarters tomorrow. They’ll send it away to be tested for rabies. Or, you could put it in a cooler, on ice. Either way works. But don’t put it in the freezer.”
Turns out that freezing a bat’s brain before it gets tested for rabies is not a good idea.
Mark that down on the list: Things I never thought I’d need to know: Don’t freeze bat brains.
I relayed the instructions to my sister, and I could sense her revulsion. I’m good like that. I’m a regular revulsion-sensor.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that her initial reaction was something like “Ewwww. Really?”
I assured her it had to be done, then grabbed a beer, flipped my chicken one more time, and finished cooking dinner.
Better her than me, I thought. Not that I’d ever say that to her, of course.
The calls continued as my sister updated me on the progress. I began answering my phone “You’ve reached the bat cave, this is John. Can I help you?
She didn’t think that was too funny.
Eventually, my warden source called back for a progress report. I told him that I’d opted to advise my sister to use the bat-in-the-cooler option, because if she’d put a dead bat in my mom’s refrigerator — even just in the crisper drawer for a night — mom would never use it again.
“No!” he said, breaking into laughter. “Not the kitchen fridge. I’d never tell you to do that. I meant the ‘deer fridge’ in the garage!”
Alas, my mom doesn’t have a deer fridge (maybe because I never get my deer, and she would have nothing to put in it).
But she did have a bat. In a cooler.
The next day, I delivered it to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife headquarters and learned that plenty of others have been having bat problems. When those bats are found inside living quarters, the department asks that people have them checked for rabies.
That’s exactly what we did.
A few days later, I got another phone call.
A second bat was flying around in my mom’s living room. As you might expect, she was far from impressed. Again.
My nephew answered her emergency call and managed to convince the bat to fly behind the chimney, where it absolutely, positively crawled back outside.
(At least, that’s what I told my mom).
Meanwhile, I called Cory Mosby, the DIF&W’s small mammal biologist, and asked for advice. Mosby explained that on hot days, bats that live in crawl spaces or attics — as we suspected these two had, seek cooler temperatures.
That often means they work their way into homes.
The problem: Our common little brown bat species is in trouble due to white-nose syndrome. And bats are good for us, no matter how much they might creep us out. They eat thousands of bugs, and are an important part of our ecosystem.
Mosby said he’d been hearing about plenty of bat problems, and said that although the department would rather homeowners use a patient approach, waiting until the baby bats that are currently nursing are able to fly — around Aug. 15, he said — then using “bat exclusion” devices to get them to find other housing, he understood that doesn’t always happen.
“Since she’s having them get into her living quarters, she can have them excluded at any time,” he told me.
Mom liked that idea. I called an animal damage control agent and set up an appointment. He told me getting rid of the bats might be tough. When I told him that there had apparently been a colony in her crawl space — bats in the belfry, if you prefer — for several years, he said the job might be even more difficult.
Keeping them out, he said, was easy, if you could find out how they’re getting in. Getting a colony out? A whole different story.
That didn’t matter to mom. In fact, if she’d been able to find a black market nuke that selectively targets only flying mammals, she would have bought it in a minute.
We were in a me-or-the-bats situation. Not good.
So yesterday, the nuisance wildlife expert showed up for a walk-around. He couldn’t pinpoint an entry point that the bats had used. Nothing.
Then he stuck his head up into the crawl space, which I had told him must be full of the critters.
There were no bats. No bat droppings. Nothing.
So now, we wait, just in case, and hope for the best.
But I’m still expecting the worst.
In fact, soon I’ll make another phone call.
I’ve got to make sure my sister makes sure the ice box is full of ice … and that she knows where her bat-handling gloves are.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke