Bats infiltrated a number of campus buildings this past week in search of food and shelter, a predicament that was shared with the Kenyon community in a Student-Info email on Monday, Sept. 5.
In the email, Dean of Students Brian Janssen advised anyone who finds a bat to call Campus Safety immediately. “When a bat is reported, a Campus Safety Officer or a maintenance worker will respond and capture the bat in a net or other means and release the bat outdoors.” Director of Campus Safety Michael Sweazey wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Bats are a protected species, so every effort is made to reduce stress or harm during capture.”
According to Sweazey, three bat invasions have been officially reported to the Office of Campus Safety in the past week. On Thursday, Sept. 1, bats were reported in Leonard Hall at 7:29 p.m. and in Mather at 11:00 p.m., and another was reported in Ascension at 8:43 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 5. Many bat sightings have also gone unreported, leaving the real number of bats on campus largely unknown.
Shane McGuire, the Land Manager Naturalist at the Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC), believes that the bats are most likely little brown bats or big brown bats. These species eat insects and typically prefer to roost in houses, barns or trees.
According to Sweazey, the bats are attracted to the lights on campus, likely due to the increased insect activity around them. Additionally, as temperatures begin to drop and the number of insects decreases in September and October each year, the number of bats seeking shelter in order to hibernate typically increases. The bats are likely entering campus buildings through open doors or windows, or through small cracks that give them access to attic spaces.
The old age of many of Kenyon’s buildings also makes these spaces more susceptible to bat infestations. “They have cracks and everything else in them, and everything’s not sealed up tight like you find in a house that was built five or 10 years ago. So they can get in those little cracks and crevices and kind of find their way in,” McGuire said. “They only need something like two inches to squeeze into [a building].”
Mammal infiltrations have been a regular occurence on campus. “Bats getting into buildings on Kenyon College is not a new thing,” Sweazey wrote in an email to the Collegian. However, this year’s bat presence has been significantly more heightened than in the past.
According to Emma Renee Coffman ’22, a post-baccalaureate fellow at the BFEC, habitat loss may be a significant contributing factor to the increase of bats in campus buildings, especially considering recent construction projects like the ongoing south campus project which required the clearing of seven acres of trees this past summer. “There’s always been bats in the buildings on campus, but I’ve noticed for sure there’s definitely been a lot recently,” Coffman said.
The sight of bats in common living spaces has been a jarring experience for members of the Kenyon community, many of whom are not expecting to see a bat flying in an indoor space. Hayden Fletcher ’25 saw a bat fly from a Bushnell stairway and into the hallway over his head on Aug. 29. “I’m very traumatized,” he said. “Around every corner I’m worried there will be a bat lurking there.”
Fletcher did not report the bat because he figured that if it had found its way in, it would be able to find its way out. “I think there are a lot more bats than being reported to Campus Safety because people don’t think it’s a big deal,” he said.
Acting President Jeffrey Bowman echoed Fletcher’s sentiment. “[They] fly in an erratic and unpredictable way that is alarming to human beings,” he said. “You don’t want to wake up and see this strange thing flying around or having a dim sense that it’s flying around in your bedroom, which is what usually happens.”
Though mostly harmless, bats are the only animals in Knox County to test positive for rabies in the past 30 years. The most immediate known threat a bat has posed to the Kenyon community was in 2020, when a bat discovered in a Gambier residence tested positive for the virus. Most human rabies cases are a result of a bat bite, though fewer than four percent of bats in Ohio carry the disease. According to McGuire, bat bites are not terribly painful, and they feel similar to a bee sting.
For the long term, the College has decided to take mitigation steps by double checking the seals on rooms and screens and will also be erecting more “bat houses” around the perimeters of buildings, which will serve as safe living spaces. “They probably don’t really want to be in Leonard or Hanna anymore than we want them to be there,” Bowman said.
The recent masses of bats have prepared many members of the Kenyon community to effectively handle them. Bowman encourages anyone who encounters one to seek assistance. “There are a couple of people on staff there who have developed this as a kind of subspecialty of their work, and they will come take care of your bat,” he said.