Batten down those hatches, bats are in full flight

Ian Gillespie
It was about 3 a.m. Dazed from a broken sleep, I stumbled in o the bathroom, flicked on the light, readied myself for the act of emptying my bladder and then…

And then I screamed.

There was a bat thrashing around inside the toilet bowl.

Now, I’ve seen my share of upsetting things. But I’d be lying if I said the sight of that winged thing didn’t get my heart racing, my adrenaline coursing and my mind freaking.

But my bat in a bowl pales when compared with what Benjamin Vaughan has seen. Like the time he and his team removed about 3,000 bats from an old farmhouse in Alexandria, east of Ottawa.

“I immediately realized the extent of the problem,” he recalls.

“Because I could hear the walls – from the outside, in the daytime – just shimmering, just alive.”

It’s spring. That means the temperature is rising. And that means things are about to get busy for Vaughan, who has owned and operated Bat Control Specialists ( for about 15 years.

“This is when business really picks up,” he says. “Because the bats that have gone elsewhere to hibernate for the winter are returning and the bats that were hibernating in houses are waking up and becoming more active.”

Depending on the season, Vaughan employs between for and 10 workers and travels throughout Ontario, Quebec and even the Maritimes to evict the unwelcome guests. He says that between now and early fall, he’ll get between 50 and 100 calls a day from folks freaked out by bats.

“If you have a couple hundred bats in a house, the amount of damage they can do is atrocious,” he says. “The stench can become unbearable during heatwaves.”

And that’s the real danger. Bat poop. Or guano. A bat can produce several times its weight in waste each month. And inhaling spores of infected waste can lead to histoplasmosis, an infectious disease that can cause flu-like symptoms, respiratory problems, blindness or even death.

“We’ve had two rabies deaths in 30 years in this country from bats,” says Vaughan.

“But I know of three deaths from histoplasmosis in the last few years.”

That’s why Vaughan resembles a spaceman when he works, wearing a full-hooded suit and air-filter system.

In Ontario, most bats are either the Little Brown or Big Brown variety. Typically, they enter a house through dime-sized gaps in soffit and fascia boards, through vent covers or chimneys. Once inside, the bats will often reside between the roof decking and ceiling.

“Bats spend their lives trying to regulate their temperature,” says Vaughan.

“If it’s really hot, they’ll be in the north wall, which is out of the direct sunlight. When it’s cooler, they’re going to be in the south wall so they’ll stay warm. They’re constantly shifting.”

Vaughan has heard all the old wives’ tales. No, they won’t bite your neck. In fact, he says, a bat isn’t likely to bite unless you pick it up, or accidentally step or lie on it.

And what about bats flying into your hair?

“It’s a crock of hooey,” he says.

“I’ve been in attics with hundred of bats flying around and they’re not landing on my head they’re not landing in my hair.”

Finding and catching bats (Vaughan uses special one-way traps) is one thing. But the real work involves sealing the entry spots.

“To do bat work effectively, you’ve pretty much got to know everything there is to know about construction,” he says.

“How buildings move, breathe, expand, contract, different construction methods and materials, vent systems, chimneys… That’s why it’s such a specialty.”

And it’s not cheap. With the cost of time, travel and materials, Vaughan says a bat-removal job can cost between $2,500 and $6,000.

And that rarely pleases people – not even the priest who hired Vaughan to roust the bats from a church near Leamington.

“I gave the priest the contract and as he was signing it he said to me, ‘I’ve been praying for years that God would get rid of the bats,’ “recalls Vaughan.

“And then he gave me this hard look and he said, ‘I see he sent you instead’ “