If you give a bat a hole in a roof, he’s going to want to live there.
At least, that’s what local Crossroads elementary schools have learned in the past month.
“Any little space, these little creatures find them and they get in there,” said Bloomington Independent School District Superintendent Abbie Barnett. “If bats want to get in your roof, they will.”
Two Crossroads schools – Placedo Elementary and Refugio Elementary – have unexpectedly turned into bat caves this spring. The two campuses have had to shut down for several days after bats were discovered.
Placedo Elementary, which accommodates prekindergarten through first grade, started its spring semester at Bloomington Elementary after bats were found in the roof of the campus during the winter break.
While the Bloomington school district has dealt with a stray bat or two in the past, the school district has never, in recent memory, had to shut down a campus for 10 days to remove bats and sanitize a building, Barnett said.
“We’re not sure what brought on the bats, other than they were looking for a home,” Barnett said. “They’re part of nature. They’re going to look for a home, and when they do, they stay there.”
Finding bats in buildings – whether a school, home or commercial facility – isn’t uncommon during the winter months, said Trey Barron, wildlife diversity biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Victoria.
The bats most often are found in buildings are Mexican free-tailed bats, he said, a colonial species that are typically found in large numbers. The Mexican free-tailed bats can have colonies between 15 and 25 bats and up to a million in some places in the Hill Country.
“We have some bridges locally that have around 10,000 roosting underneath the bridge,” Barron said. “Bats are a lot more common than people realize.”
This particular species looks for a cave-like structure that will protect them from the cold weather, he said.
“Anywhere they can get into is a good place to make a house for them. It’s not often convenient for us, though,” Barron said.
The Mexican free-tailed bats are also somewhat migratory, he said, and so some species of bats are migrating south, while others are migrating north. However, bats can be found in Victoria year-round.
After the bats were discovered at Placedo Elementary, the district made sure to seal as many holes and openings as possible in the roof and building, Barnett said.
The district also increased the lighting outside the building with bright LED lights, he said.
The district also invested in at least four small sonar devices to put in each outside corner of the building. The sonar devices, which detect movement, release a high-frequency sound heard only by bats to ward them away, Barnett said. The school district has yet to see any other bats and hopes it stays that way.
“We took quite a few measures to ensure they won’t pick us out again,” he said.
Bats primarily eat insects such as moths and june bugs and have a pretty significant impact on the local ecosystem, Barron said.
However, home and business owners should make sure there are no entry points in the roofs or walls, he said, because bats can crawl into small crevices. The Mexican free-tailed bat is only about 4 inches in length, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
Refugio Elementary School closed down twice in two weeks because of bats. The first time the school closed, Feb. 18, the school removed bats and cleaned the campus before reopening in a couple of days, said Refugio Elementary principal Twyla Thomas.
“It’s not normal to see a bat in the daytime at school, but I understand they’re creatures and they’re looking for a home,” Thomas said.
But within days, more bats were discovered, and the school was shut down again last week to thoroughly remove the creatures and seal all entry points. Students in prekindergarten through third grade have been having class at Our Lady of Refuge Church, while students in grades fourth through sixth are having class at the district’s secondary campus.
Thomas said she has never had to deal with such a situation before in her eight years with the district. Refugio school officials think the bat infestation may be the result of Hurricane Harvey, which barreled through the small town in August 2017.
“We’re thinking that wind and debris might have loosened the top trim of the roof that could have made it easier for bats to get in, because before Harvey, we never had an issue like this,” Thomas said.
The district hired a professional pest management firm in Austin to help remove the bats and sanitize the campus, she said. The district also has combed through the elementary campus to seal all areas a bat could crawl in.
Since the company has started the cleaning process, no other bats have been discovered, Thomas said.
The district will reopen its elementary campus March 18 after spring break.
“We are very appreciative of Our Lady of Refuge for having us. It has worked out wonderfully in this situation,” Thomas said.