Cleveland, OH

Wild Cleveland: A Bat In My Belfry, er, My Bedroom

Kathryn Dillon

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Owning an old home is rewarding but working on one comes with a hefty serving of trials and tribulations.

When someone asks what you have accomplished around the house lately, and you reply that over the past two years you've scraped and painted about one-sixteenth of the home's exterior trim and polished a couple of solid brass doorknobs by boiling them in baking soda water to remove layers of paint from decades past, they tend to look at you like you're crazy or lazy or broke (and you're probably all of the above).

When you tell them about the time a house centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata) fell on your head while you were sound asleep, they start to inch away, as if the insanity that possessed you to purchase a century-old fixer-upper where such things could actually happen might just be contagious.

That’s not even the worst of it.

When buying a home in one of Cleveland's inner suburbs, you don’t much think about the local flora and fauna. But, as you soon discover, wildlife does abound in Northeast Ohio, even in the more urban settings (as a perusal of any neighborhood’s Nextdoor site quickly reveals).

Personally, I like nature. I grew up on a wooded acre on the outskirts of a small college town in Southeast Ohio. My bedroom was in the mostly-finished basement, along with the spiders and pill bugs that gathered on the ledges above the baseboard heaters.

I spent my childhood playing under the pine trees with my younger sister and learning to identify the birds that gathered at our feeder and in our foliage year-round.

My family's property often hosted deer families, particularly during hunting season, and it was customary to see raccoons, possums, skunks, rodents (fortunately not those of unusual size), and various kinds of snakes hanging about.

Little about the wildlife I've observed since we arrived in Cleveland Heights has been particularly surprising (except the coyotes and foxes, this close to a city, but that's a story for another day).

Until the bat.

One night, a year or so after we moved in, I was lying in bed, dreams of a good night’s sleep dancing in my head. My husband was downstairs chatting with a friend who was staying with us while his wife received treatment at the Cleveland Clinic down the hill.

I’d just closed my eyes when something swooped toward me from the general direction of the window, dipping to just a couple of inches above my face before (blessedly) ascending once more.

I let out a horrific sound, somewhere between a shriek and a whoop, and rolled sideways off the bed with speed and reflexes I don’t typically exhibit.

Fortunately, at that time, the mattress and box springs were positioned directly on the floor, because our elderly and somewhat senile cat Emily had a tendency to rip holes in the box springs and climb into them if we had a bed with space underneath it like normal people.

I didn’t have far to fall, and Emily appeared unfazed by our new guest.

As I crept toward the bedroom door in a belly-crawl, staying as low to the floor as possible, the creature swooped again, and I could see that it was a bat.

A bat. In my bedroom.

I called downstairs to my husband, with the dulcet tones one might expect in such a situation.

After what seemed like an eternity, Prince Charming (who is not known for his ability to switch gears quickly) realized the dire nature of my need and came to my rescue.

When he opened the bedroom door, the bat flew out, winging freely through a very large, very old house with abundant hiding spots.

Let’s get something straight - I’m a huge fan of bats, under normal circumstances.

They’re interesting and beneficial, consuming loads of troublesome insects like crop-damaging pests and mosquitoes and assisting with plant pollination and seed dispersal on a global scale.

"Scientists estimate that insect-eating, or insectivorous, bats may save U.S. farmers roughly $23 billion each year by reducing crop damage and limiting the need for pesticides. Most, on average, can eat up to half their body weight in insects, while pregnant or nursing mothers will consume up to 100 percent of their body weight each night." -- Bat Conservation International

I’m one of those mosquito magnets you hear about, who can coat herself head to toe with DEET and still get eaten alive when I dare to enter my backyard at dusk. They love me, and I react to them, so after a weekend camping trip, I generally look like I’ve come down with some dreaded pox. A single bite can be dime-sized.

Believe me, I’d much rather see bats flying around in my yard than mosquitoes.

While claims that a bat can eat thousands of mosquitoes in a single night appear to be largely overstated, evidence still exists that a healthy bat population will keep mosquito numbers down.

A University of Michigan study set up two enclosures with standing water, known to facilitate mosquito breeding. One enclosure also contained bats; the other did not. At the end of the study, the enclosure with bats had 32% fewer mosquito eggs.

That’s good enough for me!

While no bat pollinators are native to Ohio, the agave plants that produce tequila rely on bats as their primary means of pollination.

If you enjoy a margarita from time to time, this is but one tasty example of how bats as pollinators and seed dispersers impact our environment and our global ecosystem.

A few things to note about bats:

  • They are not rodents.
  • They have no desire to get stuck in our hair.
  • Only three species of bats drink blood, all of which live in Latin America - and they usually feed on sleeping cattle. Most bats eat insects; some species prefer nectar, fruit, or pollen.
  • "Blind as a bat" is a misnomer. While they use echolocation to navigate and find food, most bats can see better in the dark than we can.
  • Only a small percentage of bats carry the rabies virus. Like most mammals, they can contract the disease, but they die from it and do not carry it indefinitely. If you have come in close contact with a bat, you should seek medical attention, just to be safe.
  • Climate change and the destruction of natural habitats (along with hunting, wind energy, and harmful myths) are threatening bat populations worldwide. 104 bat species are currently endangered (21 of them critically so) and another 109 species are considered vulnerable.

There are between 10 and 14 species of bats found in Ohio (reputable sources seem to disagree on this number). I don’t know which type was in my bedroom, as I was too busy cowering to get a really good look at it, but it likely got in through a spot where one of the windows doesn’t quite close properly, a common situation in older homes.

Bats are protected in Ohio, and many species are protected federally as well. There are legal ramifications to willfully injuring, harming, or killing a bat. (Plus, it's just a nasty and unnecessary thing to do.)

If you have a bat in your house, it is best to seek professional assistance in removing it.

But, back to my story, which - for better or worse - does not involve professional assistance.

To say it was difficult to get back to sleep that night would be an understatement. The bedroom door was closed, and my husband and our friend had contained the likely-terrified creature on one side of our first floor, but adrenaline is a powerful stimulant and I was wide awake.

Getting ready for work the next day was no picnic either. I'm usually out of bed by 5 a.m. when it's still quite dark and I remember slinking around the house, preparing to leave, wondering if I'd be startled by that now-familiar swooping motion.

My husband, a paragon of patience who fortunately works from home, was finally able to gently capture our visitor in a small container (when he found it roosting on the picture rail in the living room for its daytime slumber) and release it through the window in our library without any harm to the bat or himself.

We saw no evidence of a colony and we've had no offenders since then.

Bottom line: Bats are fascinating, beneficial creatures and I'm glad they are my neighbors.

I'm even researching bat boxes, to encourage them to live on our property.

But (between you and me) I'll be over the moon if I never see one in my bedroom again!

For a wealth of information on bats, or to donate to the conservation cause, please visit Bat Conservation International, which has, for almost 40 years, been dedicated to preventing bat extinctions and protecting their ecosystems to ensure a healthy planet.

Additional Sources:

U.S. Geological Survey

Neighbourhood Bat Watch Canada

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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I live and write in Northeast Ohio, about everything from food to mental health, pets to relationships, music, art, and sports. My articles usually have a personal slant because I believe we as a society and as individuals grow stronger through truth-telling and connection.

Cleveland Heights, OH

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