We have been landlords to a bat colony since the spring of 2019. Shortly after they arrived, we came to an agreement with them on a sort of barter system. We would provide them with free housing and garbage collection (guano removal), and they would provide us with free pest control services by devouring flying insects, including mosquitos, black flies, midges, and gnats.
They had several apartment options—the apex of the roof, the beams along the front porch, a gazebo overlooking the valley, and our attic vents—they decided on the attic vents. They didn’t have access to the inside of our attic because we had nailed screens over the vents from the inside to prevent insects and other critters from entering. The screen provided them with the perfect material to cling to, and the louvers provided them with protection from the elements. The attic vents also feature dual-zone heating and cooling. The attic vent over the garage is sunny with little to no wind, and on the opposite side of the house, there is a similar attic vent providing shade and cool breezes that blow in from the valley below.
When we first discovered the bats in the summer of 2019, our first instinct was to call someone to have them removed. However, being the animal lovers that we are, we did our research first. I got my binoculars and spent quite a bit of time noting all their features. I also called our local conservation organization to get more information. They were thrilled that we were willing to let the bats squat. We learned that moving a bat colony is rarely successful, and the colony usually dies. Having them exterminated was not an option we were willing to consider.
As it turned out, they were a colony of female little brown bats, and some of them had just given birth. I could see the tiny pups and their sweet little dog-like faces. I admit I was immediately smitten. We learned from the conservation organization that the little brown bat is endangered. Their population has declined dramatically in the northeast due to white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that grows around the bats’ muzzles and wings while they hibernate in the winter. It has killed millions of bats, and our flying insect population has been steadily rising.
In the end, we left them alone and kept things tidy, and they ate half their body weight in flying insects every night. We were finally enjoying mosquito-free nights in the mountains! The bats left in late fall of 2019 and returned in the spring of 2020 and again this past spring. The colony’s size was much smaller and that made me wonder how many of them lost their lives over the winter to white-nose syndrome.
We were gone all of August and returned in September to find that the bats were gone. Had a predator attacked them? Had they died of disease? It was still warm, so cold temperatures would not have driven them back to their winter caves. I got my answer while cleaning our master bedroom. I found a small group of dead, dried bugs on the top of my dresser. The dresser, located along the same wall as the attic vent, is below a vaulted wood-slat ceiling, allowing the insects to creep in between the boards. I knew right away that they had to be bat-related because I did not find another similar bug anywhere else in the house. Into a baggie they went, and we called our pest control company.
When the exterminator arrived and had a look at our Bag o’ Bugs, he was confident that they were bat bugs—the bat version of human bed bugs—so you, my readers can feel free to start itching now. This type of insect infestation can cause a bat colony to flee its home. Believe me; I was ready to flee my home too! The exterminator clambered up into the attic to assess the damage and take photos. Luckily, everything was as it should be with no bugs, but we agreed that treatment would be a good idea just in case. We asked him to check the opposite side of the house as well—the shady attic vent.
Jim, Lemon, and I followed him to the opposite side of the house like a pack of rats following the Pied Piper of Hamelin—he was, after all, the Middle Ages version of an exterminator. Down came the attic ladder, and up he went—we didn’t follow. He wasn’t up there more than 30 seconds before we heard him exclaim, “Oh man, holy shit!”
I should mention that our exterminator was a Marine. The Marines are some of the most courageous men and women in our country. So, you can imagine my sense of dread when I heard those words coming from a stoic Marine. “What is it?” I asked. I was envisioning an attic full of bats or, worse, bat bugs! (I am actively scratching while writing this.) “Hang on, taking photos,” he replied. The three of us stood at the base of the ladder, craning our necks upward with great anticipation. As he made his way back down, he said, “You sure have a big pile of guano up here. It’s a good thing we decided to look.”
He handed us his phone, and we scrolled through photo after photo of bat guano piled a good foot high! The screen covering the attic vent had come loose at the bottom, so when the bats “did their business,” it was directed into our attic instead of just falling to the ground. Not only did we have guano, but bat urine had soaked a large section of insulation. How had we not smelled this? Luckily, we invested in higher quality insulation that was laid and not blown in, so it absorbed the urine and protected our ceiling from the wet, disgusting mess.
What had happened to our barter agreement? Apparently, we had not been specific enough with the bats about the unavailability of indoor plumbing. The bill to fix the mess and exterminate any remaining bat bugs came to a hefty two thousand dollars (there was a LOT of guano and ruined insulation). Just in case you were wondering earlier about the title of this post, this is where it comes in—“no good deed goes unpunished”—our act of kindness had backfired in a shitty way!
As awful and expensive as this experience has been, we are still willing to welcome back the tiny brown bats. We will have to be more competent landlords with a more concrete barter agreement and a removable bat house that can be inspected and cleaned well after each occupancy. Saving bats is important for us all, so just forget about the guano and bugs and focus, as Lemon would recommend, on their cute little dog-like faces.