James Werrell

No, they don't get stuck in your hair

I once believed that the best way to control bats in the home was a good backhand.

Bats, who can detect objects with their sensitive echo-location radar system, will dodge a forehand from a tennis racquet every time. But catch them going away from you with a backhand, and you can score.

I no longer employ this method. I have seen the light: Bats are our friends.

That thought struck me as I read about the bat sightings at Rock Hill's Finley Road Elementary School. In recent weeks, bats have been spotted inside the school, flying around in the cafeteria and some classrooms.

Members of the school district staff have used a large vacuum to suck up the bats, which they later set free. They also are watching to see if bats fly out of the school around dusk, and are patching holes that bats might use to enter and exit the school.

All in all, the district appears to have taken a level-headed approach to this problem. It might also be a good opportunity to teach students that, except in certain situations, bats pose little danger to humans.

By far, the best way to get bats out of your home is to convince someone else to do it for you. That is the approach my mother took recently.

When she awoke in the middle of the night to find a bat circling her bedroom, she pulled her covers over her head and went back to sleep. The next morning I got the call to remove it. Fortunately, the bat was hanging upside down on an armoir, fast asleep. I threw a towel over it, took it outside and let it go.

Experts recommend using mosquito netting to capture flying bats inside the house. But a better idea is to wait until they land, cover them with a coffee can or a box, and slide a piece of cardboard over the opening to trap the bat. Then, take them outside and release them. It also makes sense to wear leather gloves when fooling with bats.

If, however, you are bitten or scratched by a bat, capture the bat and take it immediately to be tested for rabies. If the bat escapes, get rabies shots.

The chance of contracting rabies from a bat, however, are very small. For one thing, according to the Organization for Bat Conservation, only about 0.5 percent of bats tested for rabies test positive.

The odds of coming into contact with a rabid bat are slim. The bat conservation people tell us that your have a higher chance of winning the state lottery than being bitten by a rabid bat. You are far more likely die in a plane crash, a lightning strike or falling down a flight of stairs than from a bat bite.

More than half of all rabies cases in the United States involve raccoons. Skunks account for about 22 percent, foxes about 6 percent and bats, 10 percent. But rabies cases from bat exposure cause only about one human death a year in this country.

So, why are bats our friends? For one thing, a single bat can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour. That, alone, is reason enough for me to welcome them to my backyard (although not into my house).

Bats also eat moths and other pests. They can eat enough cucumber beetles to keep cucumber patches from being invaded by the beetles' larvae.

They also serve as insect repellents. Moths can sense the presence of bats from up to 100 feet, and the moths stay away.

Sadly, bats are among the most rapidly declining and endangered land mammals in the nation. That is largely due to human fear and ignorance.

I have two bat houses in my tool shed that I have yet to install. They have to be mounted at least 12 feet above the ground, preferbly in an open, southern-facing area. I still am looking for the perfect spot, but hope to entice a bat colony to my backyard at some point.

Bats are wonderful to watch in flight in the summer, emerging just as the sun ducks beneath the horizon, performing their crazy bat waltz in the darkening sky. And this aerobatic display is enhanced by the sure knowledge that thousands of mosquitoes are meeting their doom.

If the school district crew sucks up any more bats at Finley Road Elementary, they are welcome to set the little beasts free in my yard.