Bats head indoors as Ohio climate turns cold and hibernation begins

Courtesy: Unsplash
Caroline Ward, Science Editor

At this point, most College of Wooster students have heard about, seen or perhaps even been bitten by a bat living in the bathroom or stairwell of their residence hall. The average student may wonder how and why these airborne mammals are finding their way in–after all, who would ever willingly choose to live in Douglass or Holden? But these halls, though less-than-ideal to the students taking up residence, are to a bat, the perfect home.

The typical bat living in a College of Wooster dorm is the big brown bat. This type of bat, found all over Ohio, weighs between half and three-quarters of an ounce, with a wingspan of 13 to 16 inches. The diet of a big brown bat typically consists of small beetles, like ground beetles, scarab beetles, cucumber beetles, snout beetles and stink bugs. In fact, a reproductive female often consumes her entire body weight in insects each night. Mating season for these bats occurs during fall and winter, but female bats won’t become pregnant with offspring until the spring, after hibernation.

As the months get colder, bats seek shelter in warm, dry spaces where they can hibernate and roost. In nature, bats roost in tree cavities, where they are protected by  leaves and bark. However, as these natural habitats are destroyed, bats must seek similar protection in man-made structures such as barns, bridges or old residence halls. Bats can squeeze through cracks as small as three-eighths of an inch–in older buildings, small holes in screen windows or cracks in roofing are the perfect size.

Every fall, The College of Wooster sees an influx of bats into their residence halls, especially halls that haven’t been recently renovated. But this year the problem is worse: the local bat population is larger than typical due to an unusually busy mating season. This means there are more bats seeking a warm, dry place to hibernate. With limited options, they look to the residence halls of the College to seek refuge from the cold Ohio winter.

Although their logic may seem sound, bats unfortunately pose a threat to their college student hallmates. Big brown bats, like all mammals, have the potential to carry and spread rabies to themselves and other mammals, so bats living in these residence halls have the potential to transmit rabies to residents. Rabies, although treatable with early intervention, is a deadly virus. Once symptoms begin to show, the disease is almost always fatal. When an infestation occurs, bats must be removed and relocated to an area where they can safely roost and hibernate. Bats are critical to our ecosystem, and thus protected under Ohio law, so they are never exterminated. 

If there is a bat in your residence, please report it to Campus Safety. If you believe that you have been bitten or exposed to saliva, please contact Longbrake Wellness Center at 330-263-2319.

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