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St. Augustine has its share of bats in the belfry

By Douglas Jordan

Karen Harvey says friends have accused her of having bats in her belfry for years. And for the past month or so, it was actually true.

Harvey, a local historian and author who lives in the Summerhill neighborhood off Old Moultrie Road in St. Augustine, said a colony of bats decided to take up residence in the attic of her two-story home a few weeks before Halloween.

“My son saw them first, and he said he thought they might be getting into the house,” she said. “But I chose to ignore them at the time.”

Then, on Halloween night, the bats made their presence known, in theatrical fashion.


“You wouldn’t believe it unless you had seen it,” Harvey said. “They created quite a scene. This whole group of bats, 40 or 50 of them, came out around dusk and swarmed the neighborhood trick-or-treaters in front of my house.”

Surprisingly, she said, nobody was afraid.

“You’d think they’d have been terrified,” she said. “But they were all laughing. They thought it was staged. One lady asked me how I’d done it. Well, I said, I didn’t.”

She was surprised to find that several of the houses in the neighborhood had also been infiltrated with the flying mammals.

“The way I’ve always understood it, they are usually in old buildings like Flagler College or in warehouses,” Harvey said. “This is a clean neighborhood, with newer homes and pristine yards.”

Who are you going to call?

Not knowing what to do, she called her exterminator.

“I wasn’t really interested in killing them,” she said. “And you can’t, anyway, as there’s a state law that prohibits doing that. And another law says you can’t relocate them. So, I was in a dilemma.”

Enter Chris Jameson, owner of A+ Animal Solutions, a St. Augustine outfit which bills itself as able to handle “any and every nuisance animal situation” in a humane way.

Jameson, a trained biologist, and his team inspected the house, looking for “entry points” where the bats were getting in.

“They don’t have to be large openings,” he said. “They can crawl through a space no higher than a dime.”

Next, the company did what’s called an “exclusion,” by installing a type of funnel which allows the animals to exit, but not come back in, kind of like a Roach Motel in reverse.

After a few days, the home was bat free. The entry points were sealed up and the attic was cleaned and disinfected.

But that’s not the end of the story, Harvey said.

Moving around the neighborhood

“Of course, they’re just going to move on to the next house,” she said. “I found out that they had been in the house across the street before they came to me, and that the owner had gotten them out himself. And at least two other houses in the neighborhood had to pay to have them removed.”

Some companies charge more than $2,000 to evict the creepy critters, Harvey said. She said she was glad to find A+ Animal Solutions, which charged “significantly less.”

Jameson said that because all of the houses in the neighborhood were constructed by the same developer in much the same fashion, it was likely that they all have the same “intrusion weakness.”

“It’s a simple fix, if you do it before you get the bats,” he said.

“It’s just a matter of finding all the possible entry points and sealing them up.”

Harvey said she had considered gathering her neighbors together and seeking a class action suit against the builder to have the homes “fixed.”

But a Realtor friend told her that it was unlikely they’d have any legal ground, since the homes passed inspection when they were built.

“Obviously, we don’t want to just keep passing the bats on to our neighbors,” Harvey said. “It’s frustrating, to say the least.”

Building a bat house

One idea that could help the neighborhood is to construct a “bat house,” said Dr. Deborah Cottrell, a Gainesville veterinarian who has extensive experience working with bats and has worked with the University of Florida’s Bat House.

“That would be the most obvious and best solution,” Cottrell said. “First of all, bats are not pests — they’re wonderful creatures, actually. Installing a backyard bat house is a fun and relatively easy project that’s good for nature.”

And, Cottrell said, your tenants will pay you back with some great benefits.

“They eat a lot of insects that people don’t like having around, such as mosquitoes, bugs and moths,” she said. “Many folks would love to have them around. Organic farmers use them because they are a great natural way to avoid pesticides.”

Cottrell said bats are essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems, but their populations are declining around the world, often because of disappearing habitat.

“What she had in her attic were probably evening bats, or free-tail bats,” Cottrell said. “These bats usually live in caves or sinkholes, but because of development, they’ve had to adapt to living in houses and other buildings. They’re relatively harmless, though I would never recommend handling any wild animal.”

Bats get a bad rap

She said bats, often associated with vampires and disease get a bad rap.

“This country is one of the few in the world that fears bats,” Cottrell said. “In China, for example, bats are revered as omens of good fortune. A lot of the fear is tied to rabies paranoia, which is much overblown. If bats get rabies, they die, just like any other animal. But really, less than one half of one percent of bats have rabies. You’re more likely to get rabies from a raccoon.”

There are several resources on the Internet that offer ways to rid your house of bats in a humane way, Cottrell said. One such site is batsintheattic.com, which, as the name implies, offers step-by-step instructions for removing bats from attics. And flybynightinc.org has a cornucopia of information about bats, including how to build a bat house. Bat Conservation International, at batcon.org, is also a comprehensive resource on the animals.

“It’s not pest control, it’s bat management,” Cottrell said. “I understand that you might not want them in your home, but we should all learn to live with them.”


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Megabats and Microbats: St. Augustine has its share of bats in the belfry
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