Portico bat

I guess I must be what they call batshit crazy, because when I saw bat shit on the bricks outside my door, I let out a whoop. The portico bat is back! I got a flashlight and pointed it up into the crack between the roof structure and the side of the house, and sure enough, there he was, blinking down at me from behind a mud dauber’s nest.

portico bat (little brown myotis)
Click through for the close-up (I differentially adjusted the light levels in the crack and wall portions of the photo, which accounts for the slightly artificial look)

Bats are long-lived creatures — in stark contrast to most mammals their size — so in one sense it’s not surprising that this little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) has been coming back to roost every spring for at least the past six years, which is as long as I’ve been keeping track. But with the epidemic known as white-nose syndrome now beginning to decimate populations of bats in nearby hibernacula, I didn’t expect to see this guy again. I decided to annoy him for a couple more minutes, just long enough to snap his picture for posterity.

No white nose yet — though last summer, he was briefly white from head to toe. The house was getting a long-overdue paint job, and it was seriously disturbing his sleep. When I scraped under the portico roof, I was careful not to get too close, but when I started blasting the adjacent wall with the pressure-washer, he came sailing out like a bat out of hell — a really, really wet hell.

So when it came time to paint, I guess the smell got to him and he decided to flee again, only this time, for some reason, he dove straight into the bucket of paint. Our caretaker Paula was the painter, and she let out a yell that brought me running. Good thing she’s not as slow-witted as I am, though. She grabbed him before he could fly away or start grooming himself, carried him into my laundry room, and very gently washed the paint from his fur and parchment-thin wings in a trickle of tap water while her husband Troy and I watched and offered advice.

You have never seen a more ugly and pitiable creature than that soaking wet bat. Fortunately, it was a warm day. I scrounged up a cardboard box to put him in until the paint dried in a couple of hours — we were afraid he’d try to crawl back into his crack and get wet paint on himself again. Toward evening when we finally released him, though, he flew off into the woods, and he didn’t return for several days. But return he did, and there wasn’t a trace of paint on him. He’s a survivor.

view of the portico showing the bat's location
view of the portico showing the bat's location

I wonder if he ever misses the teeming maternal colony of his first summer. Perhaps, like humans, bats don’t remember their infancy. Some might say they don’t remember much at all, lacking (as far as we know) a symbolic language, but he certainly remembers his spot behind the portico each year. And bats and humans might be expected to have a little bit in common, since we’re both long-lived social animals — except when we’re not, and go off and live as a recluse for a while. Even though I rarely see him, I enjoy knowing he’s there, ten feet from where I write. If he doesn’t return next spring, it’ll be just a little bit lonelier around here.

35 Comments


  1. you’ve got bats in your belfry, mr. bonta. ew. ew. ew. but you’re a terrific citizen and friend to strange creatures (like bats and poets). :)

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    1. You know, the poet Randall Jarrell wrote a most excellent children’s book called The Bat-Poet. Don’t know if your kids would like it, but I think you would. (And it might change your mind about the “ew” factor.)

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      1. intellectually i want to like bats. i think they’re pretty cool. but there’s something about my response (i’m terrified of birds, as well) that predates my intellect. the fear is so intense it’s almost like an autonomic nervous system thing. scream and run. scream and run.

        (i’m still curious about the book, of course.)

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        1. I have a cousin who’s afraid of birds, too. I’ll have to ask her if it extends to bats. I think she told me it went back to some early childhood trauma (she’s a psychotherapist).

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          1. i think your cousin is right. you’ll have to tell me what she says.


  2. Dave,

    I once made a sign that said “Ecology House” and nailed it on the side of a clapboard shack. By mid-summer there was bat-poop below the sign. I peeked. Several were roosting beneath. I understand your glee.

    White nose syndrome terrifies me. As if we needed another nightmare. They’re supposed to live a long time.

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    1. Right — long lives, low reproductive rates. Makes them very vulnerable to population collapses. Scarey shit. And I’m afraid it is coming your way.

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  3. Bats wet, white and returning. Wonderful.

    Hope someone figures out how to end the white-nose syndrome or that it soon runs its course. Likewise hive collapse.

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    1. Yeah, me too. Was it you who shared the link on Facebook to an article claiming that the two syndromes are related — immune systems lowered by a class of very prevalent pesticides? I am actually sort of hoping that turns out to be true, because then it would mean these are reversable. But in the bats’ case, I fear it is more likely to be a simple case of a new disease having been transported by cavers from the Old World to the New, and that the bats are going to see the same kind of 80-90% die-offs that struck Native Americans after contact with European diseases like smallpox and measels.

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  4. Oh, oh, oh! What a wonderful neighbor! I am envious, and happy for you and he/she.

    Toasting you both for a long, long life.

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    1. Our neighbors are handy in many ways that we are not, and this was one example. Even better, they share our love of the mountain and its wildlife.

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  5. This is the greatest story Dave! I’m glad the little fellow realised that his wash and brush up wasn’t a refined form of torture, and that it was safe to return. Brown bats are solitary, right? We once saw a brown bat in the barn here. He looked pretty much at home but I haven’t seen him since, though access into the roof space that he emerged from doesn’t make it easy to check whether he’s still a resident. Might your brown bat make it into the bestiary?

    We had a paint incident here this week. Basil the Shetland pony put his head through the fencing and with his infinitely extendable and almost prehensile lips, managed to hook a pot of paint being used to spruce up his stable. He neatly decorated the area outside his sleeping quarters, painted his front hooves a jaunty red and got enough over his muzzle to give the impression he’d had a spectacular nose bleed. I just hope the animal welfare people don’t turn up here and get the wrong idea!

    It could make a good post. Animals that tangle with paint pots!

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    1. Our little brown bats (quite a different species from yours, I think) are otherwise quite social; it’s just the mature males who are solitary, and only in the summer wheile the females are in maternal colonies. Lord knows if they were more solitary, like some of our forest bats, they’d have a better chance of surviving the epidemic.

      I should try writing a bat poem for our bestiary project, yes. (And I do mean to get back to that.)

      Maybe Basil is like one of those Asian elephants one reads about who have taken up painting. Close association with you might be bringing out a latent artistic impulse.

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  6. How can we live without bat shit before us? —Rene Chiroptera

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    1. Bare-footed, that’s how. But then the Lyme-disease ticks would get us. The bats are our friends.

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  7. Portico Bats have cheerful faces,
    Portico Bats have bright black eyes;
    They like to practice their airs and graces
    And wait for the Portico Moon to rise.

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  8. Paula’s something. The bat wouldn’t have survived had I been painting the place.

    Great tale. Glad he’s home.

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    1. Believe me, if you have to have neighbors, you want people like Paula and Troy. I won’t elaborate, since they may read this and I don’t want to embarrass them!

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  9. Wonderful story. I’m so glad that your portico bat has remained healthy and is “in residence” for another season.

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  10. The Bat-Poet is wonderful! I discovered that book while I was volunteering in a childrens library a few years back. Thanks for the reminder and the photo of the Portico Bat and the white paint story.

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