Thursday, August 12, 2004

Of bats and women

[... with apologies to John Steinbeck]

In the middle of eating dinner last night, there was a knock on our door. When I opened the door, I was greeted with the question "Do you have any experience with getting bats out of apartments ?". Now, short of various religious nutcases that I've had the misfortune to get cornered by, that's probably the weirdest conversational opening gambit that I've ever heard. I countered with the equivalent of the conservative e7-e5 chess opening move, namely "No, why do you ask ?".

It turned out that Kendra, our neighbor, had come home to discover a bat fluttering around in her apartment and was at a loss about how to get it out. Christina, of course, was all over this -- she loves animals of all sorts, so the chance to catch a bat was right up her alley.

The bat was flying laps around Kendra's living room, looking like it was trying to find a way out. At first I thought that all we needed to do was open a window so it could use its "bat radar" to detect that there was an opening and fly right out. No dice. We opened the window and it kept right on flying in confused circles. The next thing we tried was shepherding it into the corner with the open window by cutting off the space it was flying around in by standing on chairs with sheets stretched between us and slowly forcing it into a corner. We figured that, statistically speaking, doing so would sooner or later force it fly out of the window. That worked, to a certain extent -- it reduced its radius of flight, but it never made it out of the window. And after a few small circles, it would always fly through a gap between the sheet and the ceiling and we'd have to start all over again.

After trying this for a while, I started thinking about "nontraditional" ways to catch it; the main idea I came up with was using one of our cats -- a bat, after all, is kind of like a mouse with wings, so if we could equip a cat with the power of flight, it should be able to catch it for us. Given that we were short on winged and/or flying cats, I thought we could build a makeshift one by basically throwing the cat at the bat and hoping that its hunting instinct would distract it long enough from the sensation of hurtling through the air to snag the bat and bring it down to the ground. Oddly enough, this ingenious suggestion was met with scorn and derision ... such is ever the fate of visionaries.

We tried a few more things like throwing the sheet over it and trying to get it to fly into a bucket, but none of those worked. At this point, the bat must have flown well over 100 laps of the living room and was getting pretty tired -- it would occasionally take a breather on one of the moldings close to the ceiling. That made Christina think of a more indirect approach: stop trying to catch it, turn down the lights, turn on some slow, groovy music and basically make the bat feel more at home and relaxed [I'm kidding about the music part] so we could sneak up on it when it was sitting still. That actually worked -- the bat settled down, Christina was able to sneak up on it and trap it inside a bucket and then we let it go.

Moral #1 of the story: always have a woman [Christina, if possible] with you when you go bat-catching or have to deal with critters of any kind. She's really, really good with animals. If I'd gone in alone, I think it would have ended up with me telling our neighbor "Looks like the bat is here to stay. I suggest you get to know each other and learn to co-exist".

Moral #2 of the story: Bats really suck at detecting open spaces. The fact that it couldn't detect the open window and fly out of it really bugs me. How is it possible that they can detect bugs with their echolocation apparatus but can't find a big hole ? It seems like an open window would "look" like a big void -- you send sound waves at it but never really get anything back, which seems like it'd be a unique signature and hence easily detectable. Guess not. Good thing that Batman can see or else he'd be forever wandering around the Batcave trying to get out ...

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thinking like a man as always...perhaps the bat didn't want a big hole...perhaps he was a she and was happy going round and round in circles like many conversations with their other batty (read: female) friends.

-BW

4:16 PM  
Blogger Corey said...

omg - make it stop! my side hurts now, and my tears of laughter make it hard to read 16x12 resolution. you, my friend, are an absolute riot, but quite right. christina is animal planet!

i have a question: how high was this open window? seems if the bat was, well, going batty near the ceiling, wouldn't the echolocation contraption be quazi-limited to the bat's front end positioning? perhaps google will know the vertical limitation of a ping over a given distance.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Good question, Corey. The bat was circling a little below the ceiling and the top level of the window was about 3-4 feet below the ceiling. Given that sound will spread outwards in a spherical wavefront, I would expect that some of the sound waves it emitted would bounce off the window frame and be detected. Also, if it relied on insects being directly in front of it in order to be able to detect them, it probably wouldn't find very much to eat. So, I think the open window was well in its range, it just wasn't smart enough to actually realize what it was.

12:38 AM  

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