Around dusk, dark-winged figures emerge from the chimneys of the Cary East building and circle around the courtyard, stealing the attention of passersby. Framed by Cary’s gargoyle statues and a bright moon in the starry sky, the scene quickly devolves into something reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”
Tyler Ellenwood, a graduate student at Purdue, said that in his years as a resident assistant and residence education assistant in Cary and Owen Residence Hall, he has had a handful of run-ins with the creatures.
“It’s definitely one of the things that’s pretty common,” Ellenwood said. “They’re old buildings, so they have lots of weird vents and things that haven’t been used for a while. RAs are trained from the get-go on how to deal with it.”
To the Indiana bat, September is a crucial junction period in which the species prepares for winter.
“Bats are a timely issue towards the end of summer because young bats will soon be able to fly. Excluding bats from structures is limited to this time,” Kainen Morgan wrote in a Purdue Extension article in 2018.
Bat encounters on campus tend to go one of three ways, according to Capt. Song Kang of the Purdue University Police Department.
If PUPD gets a call that someone has been bitten by a bat, they send a dispatch unit. Otherwise the issue defaults to Purdue’s designated animal control unit. If no call is made, staff within residential life handle the problem and arrange for animal control services.
Before any of that happens though, the first point of contact is usually with a resident or RA. Ellenwood said the key is to stick to protocol.
“We attempt to keep the bat in whatever space it’s in,” Ellenwood said. “They like to get in stairwells, so we just direct people to other ones. Then we call up to our facilities, and our facilities are pretty good about sending people to take care of it. It’s actually a pretty standard procedure.”
Most wildlife control services opt for drafting and executing a detailed exclusion plan to remove bats, since the Endangered Species Act of 1973 makes it illegal for someone to do anything that qualifies as harmful to the creature.
For American Animal Control, which operates throughout Indiana, such plans can be painstaking, especially since some bats can reportedly squeeze through holes as small as 6 millimeters.
“We have our technicians come out and do a thorough inspection, and they check for all possible entry and exit points that the bats could be getting in and out of,” Jenelle Roebuck, an American Animal Control employee, said. “They determine whether they’re dealing with a colony or not. They can’t set up traps, but they can set up one-way valves where bats can get out and can’t get back in.”
If the technicians are dealing with a single bat, Roebuck said they might just grab it and put it outside. But if faced with a colony, which can reach populations of multiple hundreds, they cannot forcibly remove any of them.
What follows is a very long waiting game, as the bats trickle out of the structure one by one.
These bat sightings will taper off as the weather continues to cool down, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the creatures will seek out caves and abandoned mines where they can hibernate for the winter and awaken next spring.