Bats are good people, says Barbara Tryon.
Taking advantage of the barns and buildings on Tryon’s ranch, the bats keep the mosquitos and other flying insects at bay, she says.
“My husband and I used to sit in the front room and watch them fly out from the gutters,” Tryon said. “We had 17 bats living over the front room. I’ve never thought of them as a bad thing.”
Tryon still doesn’t see bats as a “bad thing,” but a recent encounter with one sent her to the hospital for a series of rabies vaccines.
One evening in mid-May, the 72-year-old Fort Dick woman said her dog was barking. She barks at everything, Tryon said, and won’t quit until her mistress finds out what it is. This time her dog was interested in something underneath an ivy plant on the ground.
“I took my left hand and lifted the ivy leaf to see what was there and I thought it was a baby bird — I need glasses — and so I picked it up to save it,” Tryon said. “It didn’t necessarily bite me. It put its claws into my finger and broke the skin. It would not come off. I took my left hand and I just scooped it underneath the foot and just flicked it.”
Tryon said the small cut didn’t bleed much. She cleaned it with hydrogen peroxide and forgot about it until her children did some research on Google and encouraged her to visit Sutter Coast Hospital’s emergency room.
Tryon wound up receiving eight shots for rabies on May 30, June 2, June 6 and June 13. They weren’t the painful shots in the stomach everyone thinks of. Tryon said she received three shots in each leg and one on each arm.
But finding a dead bat by the back tire of her car and seeing a third bat on the ground a few weeks after the initial bat scratch that sent her to the hospital has Tryon concerned. She said she upended a flower pot over the third bat and called Del Norte County Animal Control and the Department of Health and Human Services to find out how to get it for disease.
However, Tryon said she got nowhere. She said the employee with the Department of Public Health asked her how long the bat had been dead and if she had put the carcass in the refrigerator. When she said she didn’t know how long the bat had been dead and told him she hadn’t put the body in the refrigerator, the employee advised her to throw it away.
But, Tryon says, she still wants to know how the bat died.
“The second bat died right here around my house and it’s a little bit creepy,” Tryon said. “Why are they dying? I’ve just been real frustrated because I got nowhere.”
There are 14 species of bats in the Crescent City area, said Alice Chung-MacCoubrey, manager for the National Park Service’s Klamath Network Inventory and Monitoring Program.
Headquartered at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, the Inventory and Monitoring Program works with Redwood National and State Parks as well as six other national park units in the region. The program provides information on the plants, animals and aquatic resources within the parks, including bats, Chung-MacCoubrey said.
The most common bat species people see belong to the myotis genus, Chung-MacCoubrey said. Big brown bats are another species Del Norte residents may glimpse, she said.
While they can carry rabies, the incidence of the disease in bat populations is low, Chung-MacCoubrey said. There’s a higher prevalence of rabies in bats that are turned in for testing because “all bats people see and turn in are sick,” she said, but the disease in the population itself is very low.
“When bats are healthy you don’t see them,” Chung-MacCoubrey said. “They’re out at night, flying around and hiding during the day or roosting in different crevices during the day. When they’re seen by people, they’re often not healthy.”
According to Candace Tinkler, chief of interpretation for Redwood National and State Parks who assisted with bat research in Wyoming, Arizona, West Virginia and California, raccoons are the most common animal to carry rabies. Skunks, foxes and coyotes are also more common carriers as well as domestic dogs, cats and cattle. However, Tinkler noted, that there are usually one or two rabies cases in the U.S. each year and one of the most common ways for people to get rabies is through a bat encounter.
Tinkler noted that if a person is bitten by a bat the best scenario is that the bat is captured, killed and tested for the disease. Most that are tested aren’t infected by rabies, however in many cases people either can’t capture the bat or don’t know how to do so, she said.
“If a bat is acting oddly, for example out in daylight, listless and flopping, it might be a warning sign,” Tinkler said. “(But) just because a bat is on the ground or floor does not necessarily mean it is sick. Many bats can’t easily take off from the ground.”
Chung-MacCoubrey said Tryon took the right course of action with the third bat in containing it without touching it and trying to get it tested. She noted that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife encourages people to report a potentially sick bat, not out of concern for rabies, but because of a fungal disease that has killed an estimated 6 million bats in the eastern U.S. since 2006.
White-nose syndrome, or Pseudogymnoascus destructans, is a cold-loving fungus that was first seen in New York has since been spreading westward, Chung-MacCoubrey said. The fungus infects the skin of bats while they’re hibernating, causing lesions on their wings. It makes the animals wake up when they should be hibernating, which can cause starvation and dehydration, she said.
Wildlife biologists are anxiously watching as the disease makes its way west. In 2016 it was discovered in Washington State, MacCoubrey said.
“Now we’re just trying to figure out where and when it shows up next,” she said, adding that 10 species of bats have been infected by the disease while six species are carriers. “The fungus is likely spread both by people and by bats themselves among the populations. But we’re doing what we can to make sure that people aren’t a vector for spreading it.”
The primary way of trying to curtail the spread of white-nose syndrome is by encouraging people who have visited caves and mines in the Eastern U.S. to not bring the clothing and equipment they wore into other caves where the disease hasn’t been detected, MacCoubrey said.
“There’s ways to decontaminate it, but it’s best to avoid bringing it altogether if possible,” she said.
MacCoubrey also noted that bats play an important role in the ecosystem.
“Knowing the huge quantity of insects they consume on any particular night is a really important thing to emphasize,” she said. “People can appreciate them rather than just being afraid of them.”
For more information about white-nose syndrome, visit www.whitenosesyndrome.org. To report a sick bat to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Laboratories/Wildlife-Investigations/Monitoring/WNS.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .