Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bats In My Belfry - Part Deux

or, Bow Down To Chester The Ninja Cat

There seems to be a connection between my fear of bats and the houses I've lived in. No matter what house I've ever lived in, there's been an invasion of at least one bat in each. So I shouldn't have been surprised  of yet another invasion of bats in the house I moved into in 2010.  Yes, bats, as in more than one.  Four to be exact.

The first two were in the spare bedroom, my girlfriend and her son caught the first one while I hid in the kitchen and almost wet myself.  We hired the local bat guy to catch the second one. The modern era of specialization has caught up to the exterminating business, as bats are a protected animal in Illinois, so no regular exterminator will deal with them. So we had to hire a wild animal specialist to remove the bat, and it cost $57. He took the bat out into the country and released it.  I didn't have to deal with it so it was money well spent.

The third bat escapade happened one night at about eleven o'clock as we watched an old rerun of the sitcom Frasier.  No lights were on, and we saw the bat flitting in the light of the television.  The light was immediately turned on, my girlfriend got off the love seat and grabbed a broom. I sat petrified on the love seat. But the fear quickly turned into anger. I mean, come on. Three bats within a year or so? What the hell was going on? We couldn't see the bat, so my girlfriend went upstairs to see if she could find it.  I proceeded to go outside and get another broom. Enough was enough, my anger outweighed my fear and I was determined to catch the little bastard!

When the bat came back into the living room, I began to take swats it it with the broom. The broom broke, I took the one my girlfriend had and found out real quick that when a bat is flying right at you, there's not much of a chance to swat and hit him because of his sonar. But it doesn't work nearly as well for the bat if you get behind it, and with more of a push than a swat, I knocked his furry butt out of the air and onto the floor. I put the broom on it, got him scooped up with a butterfly net and took it outside. My first bat catch! I was shaking like I was standing in a tub of ice water. Who would have ever thought I'd be able to conquer my fear enough to capture one of the devils?

Now it was time to investigate further, to try and figure out where in the hell the critters were coming in at.  After a search of the possibilities in the basement, we found the entrance! We had a new furnace installed when we bought the house, the guy that installed it neglected to cap off a damper in the chimney. I hadn't noticed the damper right off, for it appeared as if it was a solid piece of metal inside. But just the slightest touch of my finger opened the damper (as would the force of the exhaust from the old furnace). So the resourceful bats were coming down the chimney (which has no screen or cap on it) , tipping the damper open and letting themselves in.  A quick wrapping of the damper opening with screen and a temporary wrapping of duct tape would keep the damper closed and the bats out until a more permanent fix could be done. Phew! Problem solved, breathe easy, sleep peacefully again!  Unfortunately, humans can sometimes be forgetful. As I've professed to be nothing more or less than human, I acted the part.  The permanent fix was not forthcoming, and the temporary fix of the entrance to the bat no-tell-hotel came back to haunt me.

The fourth Close Encounter Of The Flying Rodent Kind came at about 4:00 in the morning. The teenage boy that lives in the same house as me was awakened by the sound of caterwauling mixed with chirps coming from his doorway. When he rolled over and looked, he saw Chester (one of the three cats that allow the rest of us to live in the house) with a bat on the floor in front of him! Chester had crippled the bat so that it could no longer fly and after some finagling (with Chester helping out immensely) we got the bat in a box and took it outside. I turned the bat over to animal control to have it checked for rabies. We hadn't found any bites on Chester, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

Turns out the bat squeezed open the damper just enough to get through, then wiggled the screen open enough to get out. Chester caught it when it was wiggling through the screen or some other means. He even could have caught the critter like this cat did:

Chester has a sweet disposition until something enters his territory. Then he can turn bad ass in a hurry, as the bat found out.  The bat turned out not to be rabid, so Chester was fine. He's my hero, that's for sure, and gets his share of kitty treats to prove it.

I have since put a metal cap over the damper hole in the chimney, will have a screen installed over the opening outside this fall, and I've got some mortar mix to put over the cap just to make sure.  And I sure hope the bat situation has been eliminated. But Chester remains on guard, no matter what. He's here, he's there, he's everywhere, Chester The Ninja Cat...

Monday, July 2, 2012

My Dirty War Against Bugs

Not just any bugs mind you, but the dreaded scourge of Popillia japonica, more familiarly known as Japanese Beetles. The nasty things are not native to the United States or North America. They are believed to have entered the United States in the early 1900's from a Japanese ship that harbored in New Jersey.  The illegal immigrant pests jumped ship and were found in a nursery near Riverton, New Jersey in 1916.  The hungry beasts eat over three hundred known kinds of plants including shrubs, vegetables and fruits and the grubs eat the roots of grasses. The estimated damage done by the grubs and adults is over $450 million to the sod and ornamental industries.

I have had previous experience with them, about ten years ago when they invaded my garden at a house I no longer live in.  I had no clue on what to do about them, but I had to try something. They had eaten most of my plants in my back flower beds and vegetable bed and were chomping their way to the ornamental bed at the front of my house.  The first line of attack was of course pesticides. Some are known to work well against the adults, such as Sevin®, but I dislike using pesticides, at least until I've tried other remedies. Some websites gave lists of resistant plants, which is great when you're choosing what plants to plant but when the Nipponese Nibblers infest a long- established plant it doesn't do much good. There's also the manual removal method. With a pencil, prod the devils off the plant and into a bucket of soapy water, the brochure told me. This method does work, but who wants to tickle beetles off of a plant in the middle of summer, especially when there can be hundreds of the devils on just one plant?  So I resorted to the 'Bag-A-Bug' traps sold at the local Wally World and other such stores.

The Bag-A-Bug traps work on two principles:
Principle #1 -  Anyone that's dealt with Japanese Beetles can tell you that seldom are they seen solo as the picture above. They are more often seen in pairs of disgusting bugs doing the 'nasty' as demonstrated by the wanton pair of sinful bugs pictured above. They live to eat to excess and to mate (also to excess), sometimes in massive piles of disgusting bug orgies all over the hollyhocks and roses.  The hedonistic example these fornicating insects set for the youth of this country is heinous enough to warrant their eradication even without the destruction in plant life they cause. The Bag-A-Bug system taps into their natural strong urges to procreate by offering up a sexual pheromone that turns bugs that are already pretty horny into even more intense sex-starved, immoral bugs.
Principle #2 -  As these bugs aren't really all that intelligent and also somewhat clumsy, the Bag-A-Bug system uses these bug traits to full advantage to trap them.

A close up of the Bag-A-Bug system:

As with most things, experience proved to be the best teacher with these traps.  For example, the sexual pheromone 'bug porn' that turns them into sex bandits ravenous for a roll in the hay is enclosed in plastic that has to have a peel-off paper removed. Be advised, do not, I repeat, DO NOT  put this peel off paper in your shirt pocket! There is enough of the pheromone left on the paper to make the bugs think you're not a bad looking bug yourself.  Take it from somebody who found out the hard way,  to be covered by a swarm of humping Japanese Beetles is not a pleasant experience.

There are some pitfalls to these traps. As the pheromone is very potent and the beasties can detect it from way far away, the traps do attract a lot of bugs.  Let me emphasize that - these traps attract A LOT OF BUGS! If you are repulsed by the sight of swarming bugs with but one thing on their mind, perhaps these traps aren't for you. Personally, I take heart in the fact that while I may be leading bugs to their doom, I am ensuring them they will die sexually satiated. Not a bad way to go, especially for a bug.  Also, change the bag after two days or so even if it isn't full. The stench of dead bugs in the bag can be smelled by live bugs and will counteract the pheromone, not to mention turn the stomach of the strongest intrepid bug hunter.

There are detractorsthat say these traps attract far more bugs than they capture. That may be so, for I don't keep a running count of visitors to the trap and those who actually end their days in the bottom of the bag.  Suffice to say that the one other time I used the traps at my other house, I caught twenty bags of bugs over a 4-week period, and it made a big enough dent in the bug population that they were not a problem at that house for the rest of the ten years I lived there.  The objective is to not only kill the adults that are feeding on your plants, but to prevent them from laying eggs in the ground that create next years' problem.

That's why despite the caveats regarding the traps, I'm using them once more at the new place. In the first two days I trapped four bags full of them. As the bags fill up,  I'll continue to put empty bags in place of the full until the bugs are gone.  The bugs die, which makes my roses happy, which makes me happy.

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