Bats in Your Azuero Belfry

Fruit Bat

Fruit Bat (Flikr Photo by Phylomon)

Let’s not go into “Eeeeww, bats!” mode immediately. Bats are essential to the ecosystem. Have you any idea just how many bugs they eat? I mean, “Guau!” (which I have just learned is how you spell “Wow” in Spanish).  A single bat can take out 1000 mosquitoes in an hour.  With a dengue epidemic now officially on here in Panama, bats are welcome at my house. I’d just prefer that they weren’t living in my ceiling.

Here in the Azuero you will probably have a suspended ceiling, rather than a belfry, filled with bats.  With the exception of only two buildings that I have rented, visited, or shopped in, all have had a suspended ceiling.  I don’t know what other varieties of wildlife all these buildings support, but of the four places I have rented here (yes, I do move a lot), three have bats living above the suspended ceilings. The fourth had a cantina upstairs, so the noise was probably a deterrent.

If I am such a bat lover, why don’t I want them in the ceiling?  Rabies? Not really an issue. Fewer than 1% of bats have rabies and, I am reliably informed, they don’t “carry” it, because it kills them too. The real reason I don’t want bats in my house?  In two words: bat guano. It builds up, drifts down through the cracks and can host diseases to which humans are susceptible.
So, bats, yes. But bats in the house, no. What to do?

Well, DON’T FUMIGATE.  That will just kill the bats and leave all the mosquitoes to feast on you and give you dengue.  Not to mention it will gift you with a ceiling full of rotting bats to attract rats and flies and other not-so-delightful visitors.

First, provide alternative housing:

You do want bats for neighbors, you just don’t want them as house guests.  So put up some “bat houses.” Be aware that bat house specs are different from bird house specs. The ideal bat house is taller than it is wide and fairly thin. Bats prefer a tight fit.  It’s also open at the bottom so the bats AND the bat guano can leave. You may have to build your own bat houses, or commission them locally. The internet is loaded with bat-house plans, but you’ll want to make sure to read the bat conservation folks’ information before you build one so your bat house will be successful. What’s a bat house without bats, after all?

Second, how do you encourage the bats to leave their comfy digs in your ceiling?

Here are a few suggestions that I’ve been told about:

  1.  Bats like a quiet, dim environment during the day. Get a couple of those caged work-lights and fasten them in the ceiling area.  You might consider Christmas lights, but only if yours are VERY bright.
  2. Bats have predators. One is the owl. Get a big plastic owl and install it near the little openings they use for entry.
  3. Temporarily remove a section of the suspended ceiling (it’s not that hard to put it back up).  Be sure to wear a breathing mask because dried bat guano is not fun to inhale and can make you sick!  Make a big, noisy fuss into the opening several times during the day. Wave and bang a broom or some such around up there. Play rock and roll into the opening. The bats will react like gated-community-gringos hearing really loud zydeco and will hustle to fly out. Do this a few times and they’ll find a new roost.
  4. Part B of Number 3: Seal all the entry holes. This will be a lot of work, but it is THE most reliable way to keep them out. Oh – do make sure your little flyers aren’t home BEFORE you plug the holes. No point in being cruel and starving them to death. Or filling your ceiling with dead bats.

Here are a couple of links to help you reorganize your attitude toward bats:

  • This video is of orphaned baby fruit bats being cared for at the Australian Bat Clinic. They are a larger variety than we have in Panama and REALLY cute. Prepare for an attitude adjustment.
  • The cutest baby bat ever. (Bats are not pets; this baby bat was a zoo rescue at the Bat World Sanctuary.) They called him L’il Drac.

And here are a few more links to help you build a successful bat house: