Bats are beneficial, but often misunderstood wildlife
In collaboration with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bat World Sanctuary, and Ravenswood Media — has released a short film (see below) called “Protect People, Protect Bats, Avoid Rabies!” Funded through a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s White-Nose Syndrome Small Grants Program, and a Peekaboo Rescue Fund Grant from Bat World Sanctuary, the film promotes a One Health message by explaining the connection between human health, bat health, and the environment and how best to avoid a rabies exposure.
Late September through October brings our last wave of migrating bats through Idaho. This is a time of year when people are likely to come into contact with bats, which is why it’s important to understand how to avoid a rabies exposure. Although most of our bats are resident and make short-distance movements to their hibernation sites, two Idaho bat species, the Hoary Bat and Silver-haired Bat (both species of greatest conservation need), are long-distance migrants that make twice yearly journeys between their summer and winter grounds, traveling as far as over 900 miles and as far south as southern California and Arizona. These migratory tree bats undertake some of the longest seasonal movements of any bat species and can travel over 150 miles per night, making much needed stopovers for sanctuary or short-term rest. When not in flight, bats often enter daily torpor (controlled reductions in body temperature and metabolism), which reduces their energy costs.
Although Hoary Bats typically roost in tree foliage, during migration, they can be found anywhere from a shrub to a fencepost to your tomato plants! But Silver-haired Bats are notorious among bats for roosting absolutely anywhere and at any height above the ground or at ground level. They are often found roosting on the side of a building (including in the sun), tucked into a crack in the stucco, in natural cavities and crevices in trees, under a door threshold, and pretty much anywhere they land. Bats might stay in one place just overnight but may stay longer than a week, depending on their needs and on weather patterns. And because they’re often in torpor, many people mistake them for dead because they aren’t moving.
Fall is a critical time of year for bats as they migrate or prepare for hibernation. Juvenile bats born this summer are making their first migrations over unfamiliar territory. Their survival depends on us looking out for them and making sure that we do not disturb them when they’re resting. In turn, we protect our own health by avoiding a potential rabies exposure.
Learn how to live safely with bats while increasing your awareness of rabies prevention.
Never handle a bat with bare hands.
If you’ve had any type of direct contact with a bat (particularly if you’ve been bitten or scratched), or you find a bat in the same room with a person who might be unaware that a bite or direct contact had occurred (e.g., a deeply sleeping person awakens to find a bat in the room or an adult witnesses a bat in the room with an unattended child, mentally disabled person, or intoxicated person), safely capture the bat without handling it with bare hands and contact your health care provider or local Public Health District for a risk assessment.
If you find a bat inside your home and can be certain that you have not had a rabies exposure, see this instructional video or call the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for guidance on how to safely capture and release the bat outside.
If you have a bat colony in your home (e.g., attic, garage, shop), contact the Idaho Department of Fish and Game on how to safely evict and exclude bats. Unless a public health threat exists (e.g., bats getting into living spaces), the best time to evict bats from structures is from early September through mid-October—after bat maternity season and before bats go into hibernation.
If you find a bat outdoors roosting (i.e., hanging from its toes with its head below its feet) on a wall or any other surface (e.g., tree, shrub, garden plant, firewood pile, inside patio umbrella), including tucked horizontally into a crevice at ground level, leave the bat alone and keep people and pets away from it.
If you find a bat outdoors on the ground away from any kind of roost that appears to be weak, sick or injured, and unable to fly, do not handle the bat with bare hands. Make sure the bat is safe from people, pets, and natural predators then contact the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for guidance. Sometimes the energy demands of migration, and/or the inexperience of young bats, leave bats dehydrated, weak, or disoriented.
If you find five or more dead/sick bats at the same time in the same place, contact the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for guidance.
Know that all bat species in the state are legally protected under Idaho Code and classified as “Protected Nongame Species.” It is illegal to harm, harass, or kill them. This status is not intended to prevent unintentional take, protection of personal health or safety, limit property and building management, or prevent management of animals to address public health concerns. However, there are safe ways to protect your health and property without harming bats.
And, please, vaccinate your pets for rabies.
North American bats are experiencing unprecedented threats from white-nose syndrome and wind energy. Other sources of mortality can have additional detrimental effects. For example, each year in the United States (US), we lose an average of over 25,000 bats to rabies testing. In 2018, bats represented 33.0% of all animal rabies cases reported in the US, followed by raccoons (30.3%), skunks (20.3%), and foxes (7.2%). Of the 27,483 bats tested that year, only 5.9% were confirmed positive for rabies. In Idaho, bats are the only known natural reservoir of rabies; terrestrial rabies virus variants (e.g., raccoon, skunk, fox) are not known to be present in the state. That said all mammals are susceptible to rabies virus infection and in 2019 in Idaho, an outdoor cat from Owyhee County was confirmed positive for rabies.