The Case of the Bat in the House

I wish it were fiction.

When I awoke around 3:30am on Thursday, I was thirsty, and I also had a vague sense that something was wrong — probably just a bad dream, I mistakenly thought.


Nothing to Fear? A common brown bat.

Rising, I made my way out of the bedroom, through the hall, and toward the living room and kitchen. As usual, I didn’t bother with my eyeglasses, and I left the lights off, so I had only a dim, blurry notion of my surroundings when I became aware of rapid and erratic movement in the dark.

Time slowed.

Must be a moth, I thought at first. The realization startled me, thanks to my childhood phobia of small flying things. As I was reminding myself that moths are harmless, another part of my brain recognized the flight pattern my eyes had seen and sent a more urgent message: There’s a bat in the house!

I did what any rational person would do under the circumstances: I ran in terror back to my bedroom and slammed the door.

My heart pounding and my mouth still dry from thirst, I was unable to fall back asleep.

Somewhere around 4:30am, prodded by an on-line video from the county I probably shouldn’t have watched, I decided that the prudent thing to do was to go back out of my room, find the bat, watch it land, trap it, and send it to a local lab to be tested for rabies.

I steeled myself and ventured out. I equipped myself with a plastic lid and a solid piece of cardboard, the tools I would need to trap the bat. I donned a pair of latex gloves. And I walked around the house, turning on lights as I went. But the bat was gone.

Around 5:00am, I gave up and went back to bed. I fell asleep and dreamt about bats and rabies.


Photographing Flying-Fox Bats in Australia.

Flying-Fox Bat in Australia (2)

Flying-Fox Bat in Australia.

Knowing that the bat had almost certainly been in my room while I slept, and knowing that bat bites can be undetectable, and knowing that unchecked rabies is lethal, I heeded the recommendations of my local health department and arranged for prophylactic treatment, which meant a trip to the emergency room where I got five shots.

Sore and exhausted, I bumbled through the rest of the day.

What of the bat?, you might be wondering. Surely, I thought, it had left the way it had entered. After all, bats are clever creatures. It could find its way out. Certainly I hadn’t seen it after that one time in the blurry dark.

By 9:00pm, I was exhausted, but it was too early for sleep, so, as I sometimes do, I lay down atop my still-made bed for a movie.

My attention drifted as I watched, and I started to wonder if it really was a bat that I had seen the night before. Maybe my mind was just playing tricks on me. After all, the previous day I had been editing images from the flying-fox bat colony I had photographed in Australia. Perhaps I just had bats on the mind, and perhaps my combined mental and visual haze that night had led me astray. I never did get a good look at the bat. Perhaps it had just been a moth. Well, whatever. The day was over and I was tired. I let the movie play.

About an hour later, the bat darted into my room, its wings extending nearly a foot, its shifting shape circling rapidly mere feet above me, round and round, sometimes lower, sometimes higher, menacing, like an aerial show of power from a lethal helicopter in wartime clamping down hard on a population. I froze.

I tried to remind myself the bat couldn’t actually hurt me, but it turns out that that kind of information is easier to process in the abstract.

When the bat finally flew off, I again slammed the door shut. But this time I knew I had to go back out. I had to find the bat. If it hadn’t left my house the previous night, it wouldn’t leave now. Armed with a mantra of “it can’t hurt me,” I again equipped myself with the gloves and the plastic and the cardboard, and set out to capture the bat.

It can’t hurt me.

I opened the bedroom door.

It can’t hurt me.

I walked out into the hall.

It can’t hurt me.

I walked down the hall toward the living room.

It can’t hurt me.

The bat, whipping around the living room, turned toward me and charged. I retreated in panic back to my bedroom.

So there I was, barricaded in my bedroom, not actually shaking but certainly surprised at my inability to stay calm. I was so rattled — I realized only the next day — that I didn’t even think to photograph the bat. Instead, I thought maybe I should just move.

I went online and found a 24/7 emergency pest-control service. I felt like an idiot, because a harmless animal can hardly be considered an emergency, and, besides, certainly I could handle the bat myself. But I called nonetheless. No one answered. I tired another service, TriState Wildlife, and this time I reached an easy-going and reassuring dispatcher. His first suggestion was that I could just open all the doors and windows in the house to let the bat out. I explained that, because of where I live, that was much more likely to let more bats in. So he told me that someone could come by my house in about 45 minutes. “Just hang out in the bedroom and relax until my guy arrives,” he said. Sure.

Around 11:30pm, a car drove up to my house. Exiting my self-imposed prison, I greeted a cheerful and friendly guy who had come to help. I also discovered that the bat was, thankfully, no longer bolting through the air. But that meant that we had to find it. We worked our way through the house, looking above cabinets and under tables, checking the bathroom towels and the living-room sofa cushions, examining the thousands of books in my home office, peering into corners and dark crevices. (He did more peering than I did.)

But for the animal’s second appearance, I would certainly have thought at this point that I had imagined the whole thing. But no. I knew there was a bat.


Can you spot the bat?

Maybe on the ceiling fan suspending 12 feet high in my home office? The guy told me to turn on the fan to check. No bat. I asked if it could be inside my piano. Sure. It could be inside a ventilation duct, too, he offered, and when that happens the only thing to do is wait.

Maybe 10 minutes later he finally spotted it. It was asleep at the base of the ceiling fan, some 13 feet in the air. We had stared right at it and not seen it. In spite of its 11-inch wingspan, the bat is pretty small, and can be very hard to notice. (Can you see it in the photo to the left? Here’s a detail.)

I was also grateful in a way, because the bat’s location validated my decision to call a professional. I probably wouldn’t even have seen the bat on my own. And there’s no way I could have got it down by myself. I do own a ladder, but there’s a pretty good chance that if I had climbed up to get the bat, I would have fallen off when instinct overcame rationality.

The professional suggested that maybe I wanted to take a photo or two before he removed the bat. Of course I did. That I hadn’t thought to do so before shows my state of mind. (Incidentally, I wish all of my business encounters were as positive as my experience with TriState.)

And there it is. Fortunately, my visitor is gone now. The only thing is, there’s obviously a way for another one to get in.

This entry was posted by J.M. Hoffman.

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