By Paula Damon
“The host of shy hunters fills middle air with their dance … unseen for the most part. … How few of us look up for quiet wings at twilight.” From “Summer Bats,” a poem by Hugh Eckert
“There’s-a-bat-on-you,” a lady’s cautious whisper floated with a slow low cadence over the Offertory hymn we were singing at a Sunday morning service.
My husband, Brian, could hear the woman from where he was standing three pews in front of her.
“The first time I heard her I was singing and didn’t associate what she was saying to me.”
“There’s-a-bat-on-you,” she repeated, straining her voice, trying to get his attention without causing a ruckus during worship.
After the second time, Brian finally turned around and looked at the startled woman pointing at him.
“Once I realized she was talking to me, I looked down and was surprised to find a brown bat with a wingspan of six to eight inches stretched and clinging to my left hip, perpendicular to the floor.
“Keeping my eye on it the entire time, I slowly stepped into the aisle, turned sideways and carefully swiped the bat with my hymnal, knocking it to the floor.”
Then, Brian explained, a quick-thinking usher, who had been observing what was going out of the corner of his eye, did what any good ushers would do in a situation like this. He hastily moved toward the bat, carefully placed his foot on it and gently held it down, trying not to injure it.
A reinforcement usher came up the rear with an empty lidless Maxwell House coffee in his hand. The congregants, for the most part, were oblivious to the goings on.
After setting the can upside over the otherwise nocturnal creature, he slipped a bulletin underneath as a cover.
He scooped up the make shift trap, carried it outside and released the bat into the crisp and bright morning.
“I had an experience with a bat when I was a teenager while strapping the TV antennae to the chimney,” Brian recalled.
“When I was perched on the peak of my roof, clinging to asphalt shingles, trying not to tumble off, I felt something brush through my hair,” he continued.
He figured it was a bat, being dusk and the birds had called it a day.
“I just never thought I’d have another brush with a bat. It makes me wonder how many more encounters I’ll have in my lifetime.”
This happened to Brian nearly 30 years ago and for all he knows, that bat may still be alive. As one of the world’s longest-lived mammals for its size, little brown bats have life spans of almost 40 years.
It’s true most people are about bats, which generally have a bad rap and are totally misunderstood.
The only mammals capable of true flight, bats are vital to ecosystems around the world by more than consuming large amounts of agricultural pests.
Bats also pollinate countless crop-producing plants that support local economies. Fruit-eating bats disperse seeds that are critical to the restoration of cleared and damaged rain forests.
Bats are a natural agricultural pest control, preventing crop loss and eliminating the high cost for pest management.
Even bat droppings are a rich fertilizer.
Unfortunately, the greatest threat to bats is people with destruction of bat habitats and our overall fear is a deadly combination for bats. Not only that – bats are dying from a disease called white nose syndrome.
So the next time you see a bat, think good thoughts. And, if you have bats where you don’t want them, consult an environmentalist or ask your exterminator for a bat-friendly way to encourage this winged mammal to find a new haunt.