Published Online: February 28, 2001
Published in Print: February 28, 2001, as Take Note

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Going Batty

Lutcher High School, located just north of New Orleans, has been hosting some unwanted visitors.

The 690-student school was invaded last month by a colony of little brown bats.

"It was almost like watching a Hitchcock movie," said Jim Mitchell, the school's operations and maintenance supervisor. "They were just a swarming mass. Kind of like 'The Birds.'"

Students reported seeing a few bats in the gymnasium on Jan. 23. By the following morning, a pest-control company from Baton Rouge estimated that nearly 2,000 bats had infiltrated the school's walls to roost. The company speculates that the bats were attracted by the school's open design.

Now, the St. James Parish school district is spending between $13,000 and $25,000 to ensure that the bats are safely removed. The plan is to seal all of the building's cracks with caulk and metal brackets while the bats are away after dusk. So far, workers have sealed the gymnasium and a sizable portion of the main building.

Mr. Mitchell said that by this week, it is hoped there will be no more openings—and no more bats.

The bats slipped through three-eighths-inch cracks in the walls to get access to the rafters, officials suspect.

Brown bats are a protected species in Louisiana. They normally make their home in trees or cluster in crevices to roost. They have yet to pose a health hazard at the school, but students have had some interesting interactions with them.

Mr. Mitchell said custodians have removed bats from classrooms on several occasions and even had to shut down the gym when a group of agitated bats got trapped inside.

The bat occupation has alarmed many parents, Mr. Mitchell said, and students' reactions have varied from fear to awe.

"They don't get in people's hair. That's an old wives' tale," said Barney Beebe of Beebe's Pest and Termite Control, who is helping to deal with the bats.

"It's a common species in our area," he added. "Less than 1 percent carry rabies."

—Marianne Hurst

Vol. 20, Issue 24, Page 3

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