THE BAT SAGA
While I've been accused of having bats in the belfry (for those of you too young to know what it means " the one word definition is crazy), I've only recently been plagued with bats in the basement. And unfortunately, the little critters are not happy staying in the basement, because on occasion they've decided to spend time in the main part of the house, flying happily throughout the living quarters.
Let me give you a little background before I go on. John (my significant other) was raised in a beautiful old stone house in Jefferson City, Mo. The house started out as a one room log cabin and sometime before John's family purchased it, it was moved from its previous location (on what is now Jefferson High School's football field) to its current location at 1227 Adams St. Sometime after that move, the house was also added onto and it became a two story stone home with the second story being a separate apartment.
John's parents purchased the home sometime between 1946 and 1949, and John and his brother Frank grew up there. When they became adults, they left Jefferson City and choose careers that took them all over the world, living in such far off places as Peru, Germany, Italy, Norway and Trinidad; and a host of US cities including Houston, Lafayette, Atlanta and Denver to name a few. Frank (the oldest) finally settled in Montgomery, Texas and John in Kansas City, Missouri. But no matter where they lived, 1227 Adams St, was always home and they returned often throughout the years to visit their parents, Adolph and Letha.
Letha passed away in 1993 but Adolph (Pop to John and I) lived to the venerable age of 98, finally passing away in 2006 after a very brief illness. While Pop was fortunate to have excellent health most of his life - he still planted a garden in Jeff up until he was 96 - in the later years he would spend winters in Texas with Frank and his wife, Colleen. It was in Texas that he passed. His funeral was in Jeff and he was buried next to Letha. A funny story about the funeral, the coffin was shipped to Jefferson City and when it was time to open it for the viewing, they couldn't get it to open, the locks were jammed. The funeral home director said it was the first time in all his years in the funeral business that anything like that had happened and he was very upset over the situation. John and I however, figured that Pop wanted us to remember him the way we had always seen him, vibrant and alive, so he was holding the coffin closed from the inside, laughing about the trouble he was causing.
Back to the topic of this narrative - bats. Over the years, John remembers finding an occasional bat in the basement, maybe 2 or 3 in the course of the 60 years that he has lived in the house. However, within the past few months, that's changed dramatically. The bats have taken up residence in large numbers " making our home their home.
While we've nothing against bats " in fact they're very useful members of the mammal community " keeping the insect/bug population down. (Did you know that bats favorite
foods are wasps and beetles? Me neither until I became a bat expert in our attempts to find a way to get them to move out.)
We discovered the first bat by accident. He was found dead in the basement bathroom. We figured he had gotten in when the garage door was open and couldn't get out and died of starvation. Not worried, we appreciated that he was a considerate bat, having died and fallen in the waste basket, making it easier to get rid of him.
This year, because John and I are both currently not working, we've been spending more time in Jeff and that's when the story gets interesting. Several weeks after the first bat was found dead in the waste can, John was down by himself, and having no better way to occupy himself, had spent the evening at the Spot, a downtown bar. He came home to watch some TV and fell asleep on the couch, waking up around 3:00am with the need to go to the bathroom. Imagine his surprise when he lifted the lid to find a bat doing the backstroke in the toilet bowl. (Before moving forward, if any of you are opposed to the death penalty for unwanted guests, you should probably stop reading now.) Being the quick thinker that he is, he decided to flush the little guy and with the help of the plunger, did so. Not wanting to take chances, he also decided to pour Clorox in the stool so if he managed to survive the flushing; the Clorox would ensure that he wasn't going to make it.
Next morning when John wakes up, he has a vague recollection of the incident but figures he dreamed it. However, finding the Clorox bottle in the bathtub convinced him that it had really happened. His brother Frank was also in town, and he figured that Frank might have left the basement door open, and that's how the bat had made his way upstairs. Why or how he got in the toilet is anyone's guess. In all my reading on bats, I did not come across anything that said they like taking midnight swims. But he was there, none the less.
John tells Frank about the bat in the toilet and Frank being a sane person, assumes that John is making it up but John, after going to the basement for something, finds another bat in the same bathroom waste basket. (I know, we have considerate bats, they try to dispose of themselves. While I think that's nice of them, I still don't want to share my house with them.) John shows Frank the bat and he becomes a believer. They had a good laugh over the situation but still no reason to think it was anything other than a couple of isolated incidents.
While I had not been concerned about the bat in the basement, the bat in the toilet was another matter. We've got a night light in the bathroom, and when I get up in the middle of the night, I'm not inclined to turn on the light. Neither do I look into the toilet before setting down so if it had been me instead of John, I'm sure that I would have ended up with bat bites in a place where no one wants to get bitten. John goes out on a job so it's a
week or so before we head back to Jeff, this time with Mouse, my cat. I know, odd name for a cat, but my landlord named him, and it seemed to fit so I kept it. Anyway, the first day that we're there, I go down to the basement in the middle of the day, and guess what, a bat flies by. If you know anything about bats, you know that they sleep through the day and feed at night. Leave it to us to have abnormal bats. John was able to catch the bat and he let it outside.
To sum up so far, that makes 4 bats " 2 dead of "natural causes", 1 flushed and 1 let go. With those numbers, I'm of the mind that we have a bigger problem than we had originally thought and so I was more aware of what was going on in the house than I would normally be. To that end, when I heard noises in the floor vents, I was pretty sure that it was a bat. I told John about it the next morning, but he didn't lay much stock in my theory that it was a bat. He had a couple of reasons why it wasn't " they couldn't get in the vents (wrong), they don't like cold (right " but again our bats aren't normal) so didn't do anything about my suspicions. While he wasn't happy about the 4 we'd found already, he still wasn't convinced that we had a brood.
Our only shower is in the basement, so the next day, John heads out to run errands and I go down to take a shower. I'm cautious when I head down, checking out the ceiling to see if there are any bats hanging around. Don't see anything so figure that I'm alone in the basement. The shower curtain is folded back and I leave it that way while I'm shaving my legs. When I get done, I pull the curtain closed and guess what, there's a bat sleeping on the curtain. While I won't say that I'm really afraid of them, neither do I want to share my shower with them so I let out a scream of shock. Didn't faze the furry little guy, he just continued sleeping. You can bet I didn't finish that shower. I headed upstairs at a record pace and called John to come get the bat.
We're animal lovers and bear the bats no ill will, so after catching him, John lets the little guy go. This time though, rather than just opening the door and letting him out, he takes him several miles away to a park. Figured that way, he wouldn't find his way back to our house. Wrong move. Didn't know it at the time, but bats use magnetic resonance technology to find their way home. I found that out a few days later after we discovered just how serious our bat problem was. But I get ahead of myself.
That night, we go out for a while and come back to find Mouse running around the dining room, looking up at the ceiling. The reason behind that was that there was a bat flying through the house. Ok, bats in the basement are one thing; bats in the house are another. I'm not a happy camper at this turn of events. John gets a heavy leather glove and starts chasing the bat through the house, and luckily, catches him. He puts him in an ice chest with the intention of taking him to the park in the morning. He then heads down to the basement and sets on the basement steps with the lights off and a flashlight. Imagine his
surprise when he sees a whole bat brigade flying in circles around the basement. While he couldn't be sure, he counted at least 7 bats. Because of the dead bats in waste can, John figured that maybe they couldn't find a way out so the first thing he did was open the garage door. They didn't seem in the least bit interested, just continued to fly in circles. So John takes pursuit. Catching bats in flight is not the easiest thing to do, but he still manages to snag one and puts him in the ice chest to be relocated.
Ok, time to get serious. I'm even more convinced that we have bats in the vents " I'm sure that's how the one that was in the house got in but John is still not a believer. He figures that it came up under the basement door and starts blocking it at night. In the meantime, I start reading everything I can find on the internet on bats. First thing I did was try to identify the species. Not easy to do. They are the second largest order of mammals in number of species, (second only to rodents.) with 1000 species of bats, 14 of which live in Missouri. Of those, 9 are commonly found in caves, with two of them, the little brown bat and the big brown bat liking to take up residence in the attics of homes or buildings. Nothing was said about bats in basements but as I've already said, our bats don't conform to normal behavior.
Considering the difference in the two bats sizes, it was difficult to determine which kind our unwanted guests were. While the big brown bat is twice the size of the little brown bat, he still only weighs about a half ounce. To finally determine which bat species was living with us, we measured one of our captives wing span and since it was between 11 and 12 inches, we knew it had to be the big brown bat. The little brown bat by comparison measures only 6 to 9 inches. Why I thought it was so important to know which kind we have, I don't really know. I guess I figured it was important to know who your enemy was.
Now that we knew what kind of bats we had, I tried to find the best way to get rid of them. The bad news " there isn't really any way to do it. Several commercial sites sold an electronic gizmo that was supposed to make them leave but the informational sites all said that it was a waste of money. Same for chemicals that smelled like urine, which is often used to keep out other unwanted house guests. The only real predator bats have is the owl and no one seems to sell owl urine. And having no way to catch an owl, we were back to square one.
As important as getting rid of them was, finding out where the little suckers were getting in was even more important. If we could plug the hole(s), we could at least keep more from getting in or getting back in if they in fact, knew the way out but just liked it here so much that they didn't want to go. A note on that, a bat can eat several thousand insects a night, equal to its body weight. I can assure that we didn't have thousands of insects living in the basement so it was a reasonable assumption to make that while our bats wouldn't leave voluntarily when we opened the door, they did know how to get out for dinner. (By this time, we figured the bats in the waste basket died of old age.)
Now I know that by this time, you're wondering why we didn't hire a professional. That would be because John, having lived in the house for 60 years, was convinced that he was the best one to find any holes and was just as capable of plugging them as any pro. And I would agree, it didn't seem reasonable to spend money on something that John could do himself. So to that end, John began his campaign to find and plug the holes. He went through the basement with a fine tooth comb. He found several places that he thought were likely access routes and closed them off. The problem is that a bat can get through a hole of less then inch and with a house that was close to 100 years old, there were lots of holes to be found. But after several massive searches, he felt pretty confident that he'd closed off their access.
We went to bed that night hopeful that we had the bat problem under control. John went immediately to sleep but I stayed up reading in bed. All of a sudden, I notice a shadow on the wall. Damn if there wasn't a bat flying through the bedroom! Ok, so maybe I am a little afraid of them and so let out a scream that could have been heard by the neighbors in the next block. Needless to say, John was not happy about being awoken by that noise. However, he did groggily get up and we chased the bat through the house, only to lose him. I figured he'd gone back down the vents but you know what John thought of that. And at 1:00am in the morning, he didn't really care; he just wanted to go back to bed. I finally calmed down enough to turn out the lights and was settling down when the bat made another appearance. This time John gets up, and to my surprise, leaves the room, shutting the door behind him. That leaves me in the room with the bat. Now John claims he had to go get his glove but I think that he was really trying to get back at me for waking him up with a scream. At any rate, he does come back (after what seemed like an hour to me), and manages to bat the bat in mid flight. Unfortunately, he knocked the bat towards my head, catching him within in inches of where I was cowering under the covers. Needless to say, I had had more than enough of bats by this time. I talked to John about covering the vents but as we already know, he still wasn't convinced that was how they were getting in so didn't see the need. That changed the next morning
John gets up before me and when he went into the kitchen the next morning to make coffee he found Mouse staring intently at the vent. This time John heard the noises too, and for the first time, decided that maybe I was right after all and that somehow the critters had found their way into the ductwork. It had been our intention to head back to Kansas City but John felt like he really needed to stay and take care of the bats but since I needed to get back, I decided to take the train. That trip had its own adventures but I'll leave them for another story.
Again, for those of you reading this, if you have problems with mass extermination of our furry "friends", it's time to stop reading because things get hairier from here on in.
What to do, what to do. John decides to leave the lights on in the basement 24/7 and to play loud rock and roll music, in the hopes that they'll not like the noise and lights and move on. That goes on for 2 days. The bats seemed to like it, with more circling every night. During that time, John caught 2 more bats. Sorry readers, but by this time, we've realized that putting them out is not solving the problem and we need something more permanent. To that end, he built a little bat gas chamber. He soaked a cloth in acetone,
put the bat in the chamber and let him go to sleep. After two days of rock and roll, he got to die with a smile on this face. There are worse ways to go.
By this time, John is really serious and he decides to have the ductwork professionally cleaned. He does explain to the serviceman what his primary consideration is and the serviceman has no problem with sucking any bats that may be hanging out in the vents to extinction. In reporting back to John, the serviceman does say that he "definitely heard organic matter being sucked up." This takes place on a Thursday, the day before I'm due to come back on the train. John fills me in by phone about the "sucking" experience and the fact that he did find holes around the ductwork which he plugged. That night, John looks for the bats and for the first time, finds none around. Hip Hip Hurray.
Friday I come in by train and we decide to celebrate the bat victory by going to lunch at Johnny's BBQ. When we get back to the house, Mouse is staring intently at the vent in the kitchen. It's important to note that the air conditioner is on and blowing. John gets the flashlight and sure enough, a bat is hanging at the top of the ductwork. Everything that I've read is that bats don't like the cold but once again, our bats seem to thrive on it. John puts on his leather glove reaches in and manages to snag the sleeping bat.
By now we're desperate and are brainstorming for ways to foil the little pests. John being a creative kind of guy comes up with the idea of hanging netting up in the basement to limit their ability to fly in circles. Our hope once again, was to annoy them into leaving for more hospitable digs. John's idea was to get minnow seines. It's not something that is common anymore but he did find it at Bass Pro Shop. While it was going to cost a couple of $100 dollars and had to be ordered, if it worked, it would be worth it. I wasn't willing to wait so I came up with alternative, craft netting. It sold for $1.19 a yard, much cheaper and even more important, readily available in town.
Imagine going to Hobby Lobby to buy 50 plus yards of netting. The only color that they have enough of is lavender. Imagine the look on the face of the clerk when to answer her question as to what I was going to do with the netting; I commenced telling her of our bat woes. I can truthfully say that it was usage that she'd never heard of before.
With eager anticipation, we hung the netting throughout the basement, making multiple small quadrants. It made a lovely sight with the sun coming through the windows reflecting off the lavender color. After seeing it, our friend Sandy accused us of being into kinky stuff. I'm sure she's not the only one that doubted the bat story. After all " it
does stretch the imagination. Anyway, getting back to the netting; we also put it over all of the ground floor vents. That was a major relief for me, because I figured that even if we couldn't get them out of the basement, at least they couldn't get back in the house.
That night, John went down with his glove on and the lights off. He found 4 bats flying into the netting, all of them in different quadrants. They seemed to be confused and would bounce off only to fly back again. He was able to get a couple of them, and well, by now you know what happened to them. We were guardedly optimistic that with time, our plan would work so decided to go back to Kansas City for a week.
That brings us to the present. We came back on a Monday and waited patiently for nightfall to check for bats. John went down and sure enough, the bat population seemed to be down and of those left, they seemed confused and were easy to catch. Over the next couple of days, another 5 were caught and sent to the gas chamber. (I know it seems cruel, but you'd feel differently if it was your house.) On Thursday night, we gave a cautious sigh of relief that no bats were in when John checked. Maybe finally, we were bat free. Not the case. On Friday, John gets up to find Mouse guarding the door leading upstairs to the apartment (which we now use as an office). John goes up, and you guessed it, there was a bat upstairs. At 4:30 in the morning, half asleep, John gives chase, bobbing and weaving and finally catches the bat. That's hard work when you're half asleep and he was lucky not to have had a heart attack.
We are now completely dumbfounded because there is no way that they should have been able to get into the upstairs. All of the vents had been closed through the master turnoff in the basement and in all of our bat adventures; none had ever showed up on the top floor. With no where else to look, that looks like it will remain a mystery.
Friday and Saturday are bat free and Sunday starts out that way. We've got a friend, Traci (the bartender at the before mentioned Spot) over for dinner and after John has checked the basement twice with no bats, they go down so that he can show her some Indian arrowheads. And sure enough, a bat shows up in the quadrant behind where they are looking at the arrowheads. John asks Traci to watch the bat so that he can get his glove. The bat didn't wait and by the time John got back, the bat had fled the scene. This was the break we had been waiting for - Traci saw where the bat went - into the floor joists " behind the insulation. Next day finds John tearing out insulation and using spray foam to plug the holes. Needless to say, that's a big job and like the rest of our bat solutions " a fairly costly one.
To date, we're spent close to $1000 trying to get rid of the bats. This time, it looks like we may have succeeded. John used around 10 cans of "Great Stuff", an aerosol expanding spray foam to completely cover the area behind the floor joists and as of September 2nd, we've been bat free for 2 days. I know, I know, we've gone that long before " but hope springs eternal.
I figure by this time you're probably as tired of reading about bats as we are in dealing with them. I'll end this by saying that while the experience has been an annoying one, it did have its amusing moments and even more important taught us (well me mostly) a few things. Those are as follows:
1) If you want to have your significant other bond with your cat " leave them alone for a week in a house filled with bats.
2) You find out just how much your significant other loves you when he shuts you in a room alone with a bat.
3) You really find out who your true friends are when you are bat infested. People that were anxious to come spend the weekend, now stop taking your calls.
So that's it, our story of the bats. While I don't think it has enough sex for the big screen, I'm thinking about shopping it around to the TV networks. Have you seen some of the movies on Lifetime or Oxygen? This is Emmy quality compared to some of those " at least it has a plot. I'm thinking Katherine Zeta-Jones for my part with George Clooney playing John. Don't have Mouse cast yet but I'm sure we can find a kitty with his star quality.
May all your days be bat free but if not, give me a call. I'll lend you Mouse, the bat cat. While he may not catch them, he can at least give you a heads up when they're around.