Bat crazy

Winged youngsters stir up trouble downtown

Bats are abuzz in the central city.

Bats are abuzz in the central city.

The Goth scene has been ramping up in the central city in recent weeks, particularly after dark, thanks to the arrival of some young blood. In what is a midsummer ritual for Sacramento, the Goth teens are juvenile bats setting out on their own for the first time.

“The problem is [these bats] are just adolescents, and, like a lot of teenagers, they end up in the wrong places,” said Corky Quirk, an education specialist and bat expert with the conservation group the Yolo Basin Foundation.

The baby bats, about four to six weeks old, are and trying out their wings and hunting skills. Some of the bats take to the air before they are ready. Others, using sound or echolocation to find prey in the dark (though not actually blind), stay out hunting too long, become disoriented and drop to the ground.

“We have been getting calls left and right,” said Quirk, who adds that there are thousands of bats in and around Sacramento.

Quirk’s employer, YBF, rescues these lost bats and provides fluids and food and any extra care. Volunteers then house the bats in cages before the animals are released into the wild.

For those who find downed bats, Gina Knepp, a manager for the city of Sacramento’s Animal Care Services department, advised caution.

“If they are on the ground, they are more likely to be sick or injured,” she said.

Knepp stresses that the bats should not be handled in any manner, and instead residents should call Sacramento’s 311 toll-free telephone line. The city will then dispatch an animal-control officer to handle the animal. Knepp told SN&R that there have not been reports of bat-related injuries or rabies so far.

Quirk added that the odds of acquiring rabies from one of the bats are about one in a thousand.

Midtown’s vespertine pups are primarily gray and dark brown Mexican free-tailed bats, along with smaller populations of big brown bats, red bats and the smaller California myotis. Despite their gothic, blood-sucking reputation—just three species of bats, mostly in Central and South America, dine on blood—the bats are largely harmless and eco-friendly. Instead of blood, the local bats eat their weight in such insects as moths, weevils and beetles.

“They are vital for the environment and agricultural land as natural pesticide control and fertilizer,” Quirk said.

Like their neighbors, the warm-blooded mammals are drawn to the central city because of its architecture and good eats. According to NorCalBats, a Sacramento Valley rescue and conservation group, pesticide poisoning and habitat loss in the Central Valley and Sierra foothills, particularly in caves, have also pushed the bats toward more urban living. The bats particularly like garages, eaves and overhangs as homes for their maternal colonies.

Sacramento’s rivers also provide a ready supply of insects. Just north of Sacramento, roughly 200,000 to 250,000 bats—one of the largest colonies in the United States—also roost under the bridges of the Yolo Causeway and in the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area.

“The fruit bats like to hang out in Sacramento, fly to Yolo to eat and then come back to Sacramento,” Knepp said.

For some of the local bat populations, though, the good times could be ending. A devastating bat disease has wiped out bat populations in some parts of the United States.

The disease, called white-nose syndrome, a type of fungus that grows on noses and wings, affects hibernating bats and can kill off about 75 percent of a colony. So far, millions of bats in the eastern and midwestern United States have died, particularly the brown bat. The Mexican free tailed bat, Sacramento’s most common, does not hibernate, but other area bat populations could be in trouble.

“White-nose disease has only gotten as far west as Oklahoma,” Quirk said. “But we are very worried about it [spreading] and [are] watching out for it.”

Midtown’s bats head out for the evening in groups, also known as a colony or murder of bats, at sundown, with good viewing locations reported in the alley behind the old Copenhagen building on J Street between 10th and 11th streets.