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Bats found on UC Davis campus may be ill, not tired

Nicki Padar / AGGIE
Nicki Padar / AGGIE

Bats testing positive for rabies raise concerns among Yolo County residents

An Aggie Alert issued by the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office and UC Davis raised concerns after it was sent out on the afternoon of Nov. 9. The warning followed the discovery of several bats near Gladys Valley Hall in the Health Sciences District.

Of the seven bats found, four were tested for rabies: three tested positive and one tested negative. The remaining three were not tested.

Now, the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office is advising students to steer clear of bats should they come in contact with one.

 “They haven’t actually picked up any more since the end of October. So, really what we were doing was just making people aware that those animals were discovered,” said Andy Fell, associate director of UC Davis News and Media Relations.

For many, what seemed like a sudden appearance of rabies-infected bats came as a surprise. However, it is not at all uncommon to see bats in the area during this time of year.

“[Bat sightings are] not unusual. Every year the same thing happens where I always hear about rabid bats in the fall,” said Rachael Long, a farm advisor with the UC Cooperative Extension.

This seemingly odd occurrence can be explained by a fairly simple biological phenomenon: migration.

“The Central Valley is [a] migratory flyway for bats,” Long said. “At this time of year, bats are migrating south where it’s warmer and there is plenty to eat.”

What many believe to be an unanticipated influx of bats is actually an annual occurrence.  Additionally, what appeared to be an increase in bats testing positive for rabies is actually correlated with the number of bats in the area.

“It’s not a big rabies outbreak. This happens every single year, and it’s just a numbers game. If they’re testing more bats because they’re finding more bats, then they’re more likely to find more bats that have rabies,” Long said.

Though several of the bats found on campus tested positive for rabies, a majority are probably not sick. Instead, it is very likely that the bats are just stopping to rest as they journey south.

“People think they’re sick but they’re just resting in certain places. They’ll call animal control because they see a bat, and they’re worried the bat is sick and has rabies,” Long said.

Still, precautions must be taken in order to ensure that rabies is not transmitted to humans because for humans, rabies is almost always fatal. Luckily, the possibility of infection is fairly uncommon and easily preventable.

In order to prevent the transmission of rabies from infected bats to humans, the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office has advised residents to look for abnormal behaviors in bats.

“You shouldn’t find them on the ground, especially not this time of year,” said Vicky Fletcher, Yolo County Animal Services chief officer.

Additional signs that a bat may have rabies include a lethargic demeanor and daytime appearances. Contrary to popular belief, bats do not fit the rabid stereotype typically associated with wild animals affected by the condition.

“Bats with rabies don’t become aggressive, they just get partial paralysis and can’t move,” Long said.

Since bats must be euthanized in order to be tested for rabies, it’s critical that residents recognize the distinction between normal and abnormal behavior.

“If they’re on the ground, then obviously they’re sick. But if they’re up high clinging to a wall or a tree and nobody has come in contact with them, then just let them sit and rest and they’ll move on,” Long said.

Direct contact with a bat who appears to be acting abnormally should be avoided. Though bats affected with rabies become lethargic, they will still bite in response to a threat.

“If [students] find one on the ground, they shouldn’t try to touch it. They should call and have us come and get it,” Fletcher said.

If a bat is found but no one has come in direct contact with it, community members are encouraged to contact Northern California Bats Rescue as opposed to Yolo County Animal Control. This option increases the chance of found bats’ survival.

Northern California Bats Rescue is dedicated to the retrieval, rehabilitation and release of bats. The organization has representatives in Davis who are able to come and collect the animals, and then decide whether the bat should be euthanized or nursed back to health.

Those who are worried about running into a bat on campus can rest assured, it is unlikely they should encounter a bat in the coming months.

“We haven’t picked up any at all since Oct. 31. It’s likely that the colony has moved on, otherwise we would probably still be getting calls,” Fletcher said.

In the case of a bat encounter, assess the situation and then contact either Yolo County Animal Services at (530) 668-5287 or NorCal Bats at (530) 902-1918.

“Bats do live a long time. They’ll live up to 30 years. They are beneficial,” Long said. “People think that they’re just flying rats, and they think that they’re just dirty and creepy. Really, it’s just that we don’t understand them.”


Written by: Abigail Saenz — science@theaggie.org


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