Olathe & Southwest Joco

Kids in Olathe go to bat for flying mammals by making homes for them

Olathe residents Hayley Thomas and Miriam Hill, both 14, look at a rubber model of a bat during a program at the Indian Creek Library Oct. 26.
Olathe residents Hayley Thomas and Miriam Hill, both 14, look at a rubber model of a bat during a program at the Indian Creek Library Oct. 26. Special to The Olathe News

If you’re wondering what mosquitoes feared most on Halloween, a program last weekend at the Indian Creek Library had the answer: Bats.

John Harmer, a naturalist at the Lakeside Nature Center in Kansas City, spoke to a group of kids about the positive impact bats have on the ecosystem and how to handle themselves should they ever meet one of these flying mammals.

One of their big selling points is that they love to snack on mosquitoes. Actually, the bats that live in Kansas and Missouri are strictly insect-eaters. Moths, butterflies and beetles are also part of nature’s snack bar for bats.

Although vampire bats do exist, they don’t live around here, and the real ones don’t compare to Dracula — they typically feed on cattle and don’t harm them in the process.

To help provide habitat options for bats, the kids at the program built bat houses using special kits.

“A bat house is kind of like a birdhouse for bats. They’re flat, tall and skinny. They just make a cozy place for bats to roost,” said Molly Vasquez, teen assistant for the Olathe Library.

At Lakeside Nature Center, they take in bats that people have removed from their houses as well as bats that are injured or ill. When it’s warm outside, they try to get the bats back out to their usual haunts as quickly as possible.

Once the cold sets in, Harmer keeps the rescued bats inside for the duration of the winter, because it’s too late for them to safely find their homes and hibernate without freezing to death. Those bats will get released in the spring.

“It was really informative when he was talking about the bats he rehabilitated. That was really cool,” said 14-year-old Olathe resident Miriam Hill.

Because the weather was warm later than usual this year, Harmer didn’t have any real bats to show the kids at the program, as all the ones at Lakeside had already gone back outside. However, he did bring along some cardboard cut-outs to demonstrate the different sizes of bats that exist, as well as a bat skeleton.

“I liked seeing the smallest (cut-out) and how big they get on a scale,” said Olathe resident Nina Piper, 12.

One of the big takeaways for 8-year-old Gwendolyn Diaz of Kansas City, Kansas, was that “you couldn’t pet the bats.”

That’s what Harmer calls positive contact and can be bad for both people and bats. Although the risk of catching rabies from bats is low, you should still take precautions.

“When you’re talking about rabies, one of the things we do have to bear in mind — and this is with any wild animal — is they do carry other diseases,” Harmer said.

So if you have a bat in your house, you want to wear gloves if you’re trying to catch it. Harmer recommends calling Animal Control and, in warm weather, opening your doors and windows to let it out.

“If you do find one in your house, he doesn’t want to be there. … Give him as many ways out as possible,” Harmer said.

If you have to catch it yourself, Harmer said tossing a towel in front of it as it’s flying is a way to safely catch it and get it into a container to bring to a wildlife rescue place.

Because of laws regarding wildlife crossing state lines, Lakeside cannot accept animals caught in Kansas at their facility, but Operation Wildlife in Linwood can.