DALLAS — Pier Price went to the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Tuesday night program on bats wanting to know how she could get rid of the ones living in her attic.
She left with an answer and a concern.
The program, which was the third in a series focusing on different species of wildlife, attracted a large crowd that spilled over into a second session. Bill Williams, the PGC’s information and education supervisor for the Northeast Region, and diversity biologist Rich Fritsky, presented an overview of the nine species of bats in Pennsylvania, cleared up some myths about the flying mammals and spoke about a fungus that has caused a serious population decline.
And that’s why Price left the program informed, yet concerned.
Fritsky said White-Nose Syndrome - a fungus that began showing up in caves used by bats in New York in 2006, appeared in Pennsylvania in 2008 and has since wiped out more than 90 percent of the bats in the state. In some locations, Fritsky said, all of the bats have perished from the fungus.
“Where we used to have thousands of bats, now we might find 100. Where we used to find 100, now it might be a dozen. And where we used to find a dozen, you’re lucky to find one,” Fritsky said.
White-nose syndrome is a fungus that thrives in the cooler temperatures found in caves where bats hibernate. The fungus grows on the muzzles and wing membranes of bats in the winter and ultimately kills them.
“We’re in the midst of an ecological wildlife disaster that not many people know about,” Williams said, comparing to the plight of bats to the passenger pigeon, which became extinct in 1914.
Price said she did research online about how to remove the bats from her attic, and many of the recommendations she found suggested killing them. One website suggested hanging fly tape to catch and kill the bats, Price said.
“That’s what you get when people don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “I didn’t know much about White-Nose Syndrome until I came here and I don’t think the public knows how severe this is. It’s horrible.”
Fritsky said the agencies such as the game commission are working to save what bats remain and he stressed to several benefits they provide.
“In Pennsylvania the major benefit is insect predation. They consume mosquitoes, corn rootworm beetles, emerald ash borer and woolly adelgid, all of which are serious pests,” Fritsky said.
Contracting rabies from the bite of a bat isn’t too likely as one out of 100 are potential carriers, Fritsky said. And as far as a bat getting caught in your hair, Fritsky said their senses are far too keen for that too happen.
But what about finding bats in a house?
Fritsky cautioned that it is illegal to kill bats, and there are ways to safely remove them. Removal should be done in the early fall, he said, and it can be achieved by simply sealing up the openings where they are getting in. This is best done at night after the bats have left to feed.
“Most of the bats that have moved into a house in the summer are females having pups. If you seal it up at night now, the mother will die trying to get back in to her pups, and the pups will starve to death inside,” Fritsky said. “Do it in the fall when the pups can fly.”
That’s exactly what Price intends to do with the bats in her attic.
“I’m going to seal it up later this fall after they leave to go hibernate,” she said. “And next year I’m going to attract them by putting up bat boxes outside.”