Buyer Beware: Bats Within

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THERE were bats in the barn attached to the house my son and I had bought two years before, restored, and were now trying to sell. They wouldn't leave.

It was their home, they told us in their own way. It was bad enough that we had deprived them of the narrow crawl space above the rotted ceiling of one of the upstairs bedrooms. They weren't going to move again. They'd found a nice spot behind a sheet of foam insulation leaning against a wall in the barn, and there they were, their little nails dug in for the season.

All you had to do was to scratch lightly on the outside, and a chirruping, muttering sound would ensue. It was more a clicking, actually, as if hundreds of tiny gnomes were beating out silver spoons, say, on their minuscule anvils; as if they wanted to escape. Except they didn't. They had been sleeping and their response was meant to indicate they would like to sleep again. Would we please stop bothering them? Also, we should be sure not to replace that pane in the window through which they flew out into

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the night - and back again before morning?

"Don't worry about it, Dad," Patrick said. "They keep the mosquitoes down." And indeed they did. Also the buyers. One real estate agent had already refused to show the house until the bats were removed. In truth, I sympathized. How many people would want to share space with the cousins of Dracula?

"Bats are popular," Patrick assured me. "They're ecological."

"Isn't there a machine you can buy that produces high frequency sounds that keep bats away?" I said.

"I don't know," said Patrick."But I like bats, and whoever buys this house will probably like them, too."

"Probably?" I hated that word. "How many bats do you think there are, anyway?"

"I counted about 89 the other night," Patrick said. "You should have seen them. They were dropping right out from under those eaves."

You mean there are more - outside?"

"They're all over the place, Dad. But look at it this way. As soon as the cold weather comes, they're off to Mexico. Maybe in the spring we can seal them out. Don't worry about it," he said, for about the thousandth time. "It's not a problem." And then, almost to himself, "Maybe I'll build a bat house."

"You don't have to," I said. "We've already got one."

The bat expert I called went one better than Patrick. When I described our situation, his voice became reverential.

"I think you've got a colony," he said. "You know how long I've been trying to attract bats to my house? For 25 years! A single bat eats up his weight in mosquitoes and black flies three times every night. In and out, in and out. Eats, digests, out he goes for more. You're a very lucky man."

I offered to share my luck with him. Why didn't he come over and take them?

"You know what would happen?" he asked. "As soon as I released them, they'd fly straight back, even if I transported them 100 miles. Bats have a remarkable homing instinct. Once a colony's been established, there's no way you can stop them from coming back." Deep silence on my part. I may have groaned. As if to reassure me, he continued. "You know, you may have one of the few remaining good-sized colonies of bats left around here. They're becoming an endangered species." Once more he said it: "You're a l ucky man."

I tended to be ambiguous about the bats when I showed the house. If someone said, "Oh, I see there're a few mice," noting the droppings on the barn floor, I would smile and nod my head. I might have said, "Actually, those are from the bats. We're lucky, you know. We've got one of the largest colonies of bats in the state. Right here. There're thousands of them. More every year. And they keep coming back. You couldn't stop them if you wanted to. They're like salmon, or homing pigeons. They're a tremendous

asset, really. I don't know why I didn't mention them before. Each one eats about a thousand insects every night. Come on over here. I'll show you some. The babies are really adorable." I might have said all that, but who would be listening?

Failing to sell the house by September (for reasons unassociated with bats), we decided to rent for a year to a young family who were also interested in buying it.

"What about the bats?" I said to Patrick.

"Oh, they love the bats," he said. "No mosquitoes. No black flies. It's one of the things that attracted them."

"And they want to buy?"

"Probably."

"Probably?"

If they did, I supposed I would have to eat three times my weight in words.

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