PITTSFIELD — Even though Batman has been saving the world from evil for two generations, it's still Dracula and his fellow vampires who win out when people try to categorize the bad reputation of the little brown bat. Scientists and environmentalists can make all the arguments they want about the bat being an important part of the ecosystem and a single animal being capable of eating up to 600 mosquitoes in an hour, but all that logic flies out the window when a bat flies in.
And that's often what happens to Mainers in August: a bat in the house and always at just the wrong time.
THREE TYPES OF BATS
They may be beneficial to the ecosystem, but most people find bats to be unwelcome house guests.
Whether it is discovered hanging sleepily in the folds of the living room drapes or zipping overhead while the TV is on, a bat is almost always an unwelcome visitor.
"Bats breed in June and July, and the juveniles become independent in August," said William Glanz, a wildlife professor at the University of Maine in Orono. When they enter a house, "they are basically scouting. They are looking for a place to stay or feed for the night," he said.
Glanz said Maine has mainly three types of bats: the little brown bat and the American long-eared bat, both of which migrate south and west during the winter, and the more problematic big brown bat, which finds a belfry, warm barn or attic and stays for the winter.
"They just love the parts of the house that are quiet and away from you," he said.
OK, there are a few bat lovers out there.
When Paul Faria of Pittsfield found a bat caught in his swimming pool filter earlier this summer, he gently warmed and dried the nearly drowned creature with a hair dryer until it was able to unfold its wings and fly away.
COLONIES OF HUNDREDS
A more common reaction is what happened recently just five houses away from Faria, when three Chinese exchange students - who had never seen a bat before - ran from their house when a trip to the kitchen turned into a face-to-face encounter with their fellow mammal.
Ralph Blumenthal of Atlantic Exterminating at Arundel has removed colonies from homes and churches that number in the hundreds. "But it is the bat in the kitchen that people are really more concerned about," he said. "We're getting five or six calls a day."
Mahlon "Woody" Wood of Pestco Wildlife Services in Hermon agreed.
"The last few weeks have been horrendous," he said. "We haven't had a day off in three weeks."
Wood got a call at 2 o'clock one August morning. "The woman was screaming that there was a bat in her house and she was calling from her car and she wasn't going back in," he said.
REMOVAL, NOT EXTERMINATION
Bats actually fall under the care of the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, but since they are considered a pest, in the same categories as rats, rodents and skunks, that department usually doesn't respond to a bat problem.
Neither do local animal control officers. To fill the gap, cottage industries have sprung up.
Wood began his pest removal business eight years ago as a part-time job but is now working six and seven days a week. In August and September, bats take up much of that time.
"Today I started in Bangor, went to Castine, Blue Hill, Mount Desert Island and then up to Cherryfield," he said recently. But Wood is quick to point out that he doesn't exterminate bats. He installs one-way "exclusion valves" that allow the bats to leave but not return to the roost.
Wood then seals the house so they cannot find another way in.
FRIENDS OF BATS
Of course, as mammals, bats can carry rabies. Although none have been reported so far this year, six rabid bats were reported last year to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Scientists say bats not only are fascinating mammals but also are of great importance in nature.
Bats have been on this planet for some 50 million to 60 million years. There are between 950 to 1,000 species, living on all continents except Antarctica. The microbats eat mostly insects, whereas megabats, the larger-sized variety, feed mostly on fruit. Sometimes both small and large species eat flowers and drink nectar.