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  • Karen Parker

Bats take up residence in Madison’s abandoned tobacco barn

A colony of bats is causing concern to Madison residents. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officials are assisting city officials with finding a solution.

Several biologists, along with city officials and extension office staff, recently checked out the roosting site in an abandoned tobacco barn. The two native bat species found roosting in the structure were identified as Southeastern myotis and Brazilian free-tailed.

Bats are ecologically and economically beneficial and are protected by Florida law. One bat can consume hundreds of insects a night. There are 13 resident bat species in Florida and all of these animals feed on night-flying insects. Bats save U.S. farmers money every year by controlling insects that damage crops and spread disease among livestock.

“Bats are great to have around your house,” said Kevin Oxenrider, FWC biologist. “They are nature’s pest control. But you don’t want them roosting in your home.”

Why do bats roost in buildings? When bats form summer colonies in buildings, they are found in warm areas of the building (i.e. attic, roof, shed, picnic pavilion, etc.). These areas are selected because they maintain a consistently warm temperature and provide protection from the elements, predators and other disturbances. Sometimes after a disturbance, bats move into human occupied dwellings. This is especially a concern for attic spaces.

“Because the tobacco barn has so many points of entry for the bats, a standard exclusion will be difficult,” said Oxenrider. “We want to see if we can change the environment in the barn to make it uncomfortable for the bats and get them to change their roosting spot.”

The property owners are preparing to sell the property and want the bats out of the barn. Bat droppings can accumulate in areas where they roost, and make these areas unsanitary for people.

“When the barn climate is altered and the bats vacate, we want to make sure the people living in the surrounding area have checked and sealed their houses to make sure the bats can’t enter and set up another colony,” Oxenrider said. “We’re hoping that they already have an alternate site where they can roost, away from human dwellings.”

Just in case, FWC recommends taking stock of your structure and checking for any gaps or spaces bats might use as access points. Bats can squeeze through openings the size of a quarter or larger.

For more information about bats, check out If you’d like to learn more about bat exclusions or have questions, call the FWC regional office at 386-758-0525.

Common myths about bats

There's an epidemic of rabies in bats. FALSE The incidence of rabies in wild bats is very low, and outbreaks in colonies appear to be rare. People contracting rabies is also extremely rare, with only 2-3 cases reported annually in the U.S.

If one bat in a colony is rabid, they're all sick. FALSE Rabies is very rare, and the likelihood of one individual in a bat colony having rabies does not dramatically increase the chances of others in the colony having it.

All grounded bats are sick. FALSE Young bat pups sometimes become grounded when they're learning to fly.

All people exposed to bats will get rabies. FALSE Rabies can only be transmitted through contact with the saliva or brain tissue of an infected individual bat.

Bats regularly attack people. FALSE Bats typically bite only in self-defense when disturbed.

Bats are attracted to human hair. FALSE Bats don't aim for a person's hair. Bats are excellent fliers, capable of maneuvering with great agility in complete darkness to catch very small flying insects. They may swoop close to a person's face, but if you don't panic and thrash about, they won't fly into you.

All bats suck blood. FALSE All bats native to Florida eat insects. None of them suck blood. Three species of vampire bats that are found in Central and South America do feed on blood but they do not live in Florida.

Bats chew wires and holes in buildings. FALSE The teeth of each bat species are specifically adapted only for chewing the particular types of food they consume such as insects and fruit.