How to Catch a Bat

“Treat bats the way you would unvaccinated children,” says Winifred Frick, chief scientist at Bat Conservation International. Before Covid, biologists often blew on bats’ faces to get them to stop biting and on their underbellies to confirm their reproductive status. Don’t do that; you could inadvertently give a bat coronavirus. New bat-handling protocols suggest using an air-puffing tool like one of those baby-booger nasal aspirators to puff air on a bat instead. Also, wear a mask, get vaccinated and test negative for coronavirus before going out in the field.

Bats are generally most active between sunset and midnight. To catch one, set up what’s called a mist net over a stream or along a trail, which they use as flyways. With a flashlight, check your nets every 10 to 15 minutes. Once you’ve caught one, gently untangle it. Hold it in your nondominant hand wearing a leather glove thick enough to withstand sharp teeth and another nitrile or latex glove over it. Lightly press your thumb under its chin to prevent biting. “Don’t squeeze the bat,” Frick says. Try not to keep a bat in captivity for longer than an hour. Let pregnant or lactating ones go sooner. “You don’t want to stress them out,” says Frick, who just finished a stint leading a team of researchers catching little brown bats in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Avoid handling bats altogether unless you are vaccinated for rabies and have the appropriate training.

If a bat flies inside a building you’re in, open the doors and windows and turn off the lights. “It’ll find its way out,” Frick says. If the bat is injured or acting unbatlike, don gloves and gently scoop it up in a towel and place it in a covered box with breathing holes. Then call an animal-rescue organization.

Some bats are easier to catch than others. Grappling with a golden-crowned flying fox, with its nearly six-foot wingspan, is markedly different from holding a minuscule, two-gram bumblebee bat. Attitudes differ, too. “Some species are really grumpy,” Frick says. Remember, bats are not responsible for this pandemic. “In some places, people went out and killed bats,” Frick says. “There’s no justification for that whatsoever.”

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