Leave the bats alone as they shake off winter’s slumber

(Wisconsin DNR photo)

MADISON (WKBT) — Most people don’t need a warning to avoid bats, but just in case, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has issued an advisory to leave mosquito marauders alone when they come out of hibernation.

“It’s easy to think that a bat coming out of hibernation needs help,” the notice reads. “A bat can take up to 20 minutes to become fully alert, especially in cold weather. While waking up, bats can stay very still.

Sometimes bats may shiver to draw blood or chatter, hiss or keep their mouths open for a long time, which according to the warning notes is healthy and natural behavior for bats when they wake up and warm up.

In most cases, bats do not need human assistance and the DNR recommends observing them from a safe distance.

If you find a bat this time of year, follow these steps to help care for it and yourself:

  • If the bat is outside and seems asleep, observe it from a distance without disturbing it.
  • Check the hazards. If the bat is in a place where it might interact with people, such as inside a building, you can move it carefully. Wearing gloves, carefully place a cardboard box on top of the bat. Slide a flat surface, like a piece of cardboard, under the bat to lift it into the box from below. Find a quiet place to release the bat away from people. Bats cannot climb out of a cardboard box on their own, so place the box on its side at the base of the tree or wood. The bat will crawl on its own and in a sheltered area.
  • Protect yourself. Never touch a bat with your bare hands; it can bite if it feels threatened. Like other mammals, bats can carry diseases such as rabies.

Bats are a vital part of many ecosystems as they consume many biting insects and agricultural and forestry pests, notes the DNR. Bats also play an important role in reducing the risk of insect-borne diseases like West Nile virus.

Wisconsin cave bat populations have plummeted since 2014 due to white nose syndrome, a devastating fungal disease that causes significant mortality in cave bats.

More information is available on the DNR’s Saving Wisconsin’s Bats webpage.

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