1. Are bats dangerous?

The answer is a definitive no! Bats are beneficial to humans in several important ways:

  • They consume night flying insects
  • They are indicators of air quality and ecological health
  • They pollinate and disperse the seeds of many ecologically and economically significant plants.

Bats do not attack people. They may fly alarmingly near in pursuit of a mosquito, giving the appearance of swooping to attack.

However, there are two diseases carried by bats that may be transmitted to humans. These are Histoplasmosis, caused by the fungus, Histoplasma capsulatum, and rabies, caused by a virus. Humans may contract histoplasmosis by breathing fungal spores. This fungus is sometimes present in guano (the fecal droppings of bats and birds). Although H. capsulatum is found in bat guano, it is more common in droppings of poultry and pigeons. It is most often found in moist soils enriched with guano. If you need to remove accumulated bat guano from a house, you should wear a respirator during the clean-up process. The respirator should be capable of filtering particles 2 microns in diameter.

Rabies is a serious disease most often transmitted through a bite. It is fatal if post-exposure treatment is not begun immediately after a bite from a rabid animal. Rabies may be transmitted when infected saliva or nervous tissue comes in contact with open wounds or mucous membranes of the nose or mouth.

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2. How serious is the risk of contracting rabies from bats?

Bats do carry rabies. However, the incidence of rabies in bats is much lower than in raccoons, foxes, cats or dogs. Less than 0.5 percent of bats contract rabies. Unlike other rabid animals bats do not become aggressive and die soon after contracting rabies. So the likelihood of getting rabies from a bat is very small. If you suspect exposure to the rabies virus, contact a health professional immediately. For more information about bats and rabies, visit the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services website or the Centers for Disease Control website.

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3. What should I do if I find a bat in my house?

Remain calm. Upsetting yourself or the bat will do neither any good. If the bat is flying around, close all doors to the room to isolate the bat in one room. Leave open one door or window to the outside to allow the bat to escape. It will usually find its way out. You may also use a butterfly net to capture a bat in flight, approaching from behind to avoid detection. If the bat is at rest, approach it quietly from behind with an inverted box, coffee can, or other such container. Place the container over the resting animal to trap it against a wall or floor. Then slide a piece of thin cardboard under the open end to contain the animal for transport outside. Although handling bats is not recommended, you also may pick it up if you are wearing leather work gloves.

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4. How do I keep bats from getting into my house?

To eliminate—or exclude—bats from a house, you must locate their point of entry, prevent them from re-entering, and permanently seal the opening. Bats may enter houses through ungrated chimneys, small openings around plumbing, or any crack at least ¼ inch by 1½ inches. Place bird netting (found in garden centers) over their point of entry to allow bats to exit, but not re-enter. Do not exclude bats during the summer months when nursing young may be present. Once all bats have been excluded, you can seal entry points. The use of poisons to eradicate bats from houses is not recommended.

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5. What if I find a bat on the ground?

Never pick up a bat from the ground. The ground is not normal habitat for bats. Finding one there is an indication that the animal may be sick or dying, particularly if the bat does not attempt to fly when approached. Also remember that bats are not aggressive when rabid or otherwise ill, so even if they appear docile and safe, they should not be handled.

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6. Where can I find more information on bat houses?

Detailed information on bat houses, and other bat information, may be found on the Bat Conservation International web site. Many nurseries and stores that have bird houses also carry bat houses. When erecting the house be sure to follow BCI’s guidelines.

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7. Which bats occur in North Carolina?

The following is a list of bats known to occur in North Carolina, with both common and scientific names (in parentheses). For details on North Carolina bats, see Mammals of the Carolinas, by William David Webster, Jim Parnell and Walter C. Biggs. Jr., UNC Press, 1985, available in the Museum store. You can also learn more about North Carolina bats in the Mountains to the Sea exhibit in the Museum.

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8. What do North Carolina bats eat? Do any of them consume blood?

All bats found in North Carolina eat insects. Because bats are nocturnal (active only at night), they feed on nocturnal insects including mosquitoes and many important agricultural pests. A large colony of big brown bats can eat 18 million corn rootworms each summer, protecting harvests. A single evening bat can dispense with 21,000 insects annually. Only three species of vampire bat exist worldwide and they all occur in Latin America.

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9. What is the largest bat in North Carolina?

The largest bat, and generally one of the most spectacular in appearance, is the hoary bat. With a wingspan of up to 16 inches and a body length of nearly 6 inches it is quite impressive. Adding to its overall impressiveness is the coloration of the fur. The hair has four bands of color—a black base, followed by tan and dark brown bands with tips frosted white. On the throat and under the forearm are patches of yellow. White patches are found on the shoulders and wrists.

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10. What's the smallest bat in North Carolina?

The eastern pipistrelle is the state's smallest bat. The pipistrelle weighs in at only about a fifth of an ounce and has a wingspan of only about 4 to 5 inches and body length of three ¾ inches. This bat is generally light brown in color, although the individual hairs are tricolored, having a dark brown base, a pale band in the middle and a dark tip.

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11. Which bats am I likely to see in North Carolina?

Among the most common bats found all across the state are the eastern pipistrelle, big brown bat, red bat, and (except in the mountains in extreme western North Carolina), the evening bat. Although the silver-haired bat occurs all across the state, it is relatively uncommon. The hoary bat is uncommon throughout the Southeast. It is solitary and roosts primarily on tree trunks, never in buildings.

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12. Which rare bats live in North Carolina?

The southeastern myotis, Indiana myotis, Townsend’s big-eared bat, and Rafinesque’s big-eared bat are the rarest bats in the state. Two of them, the Indiana myotis and Townsend’s big-eared bat, are on the federal endangered species list. These two bats occur only in the mountain region of the state.

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External Resources:

  • Bat Conservation International
    Probably the Web's best bat site, with extensive online resources including everything from field studies and species lists to a live bat-cam.
  • The Bat House
    If it's online and has anything to do with bats, Jim Buzbee probably has a link to it. He also has assembled an amazing assortment of bat poetry.
  • North Carolina Bat Working Group
    The mission of the NCBWG is to promote the conservation of bats and their habitats in North Carolina through education and collaborative study, including the dissemination of information on research and policies.