UPDATE: 7 students now being tested for rabies after Layton High bat infestation 

LAYTON — One student has been taken to the hospital to be checked for rabies after hundreds of bats were discovered living in Layton High School’s auditorium.

Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams said about 800 Brazilian Free-Tailed Bats have been removed from the school or flown out of their own volition since Monday, Sept. 25.

“I’m not sure who found them but there have been bats flying in small numbers in the hallways of the school, so that’s what got our attention,” he said.

Williams said the majority are in the school’s auditorium but some have made their way to other areas of the school. One student picked up a dead bat Wednesday, Sept. 27, took it to a nearby park and buried it.

The student, who Williams declined to name, was taken to McKay-Dee Hospital in case the bat had rabies. Williams said he’s not sure to what extent, if at all, the school or district will be involved with any potential medical costs.

Animal Removal and Prevention has been contracted to humanely remove and release the bats, which are a protected species.

Owner Melanie Harpster said the bats were migrating south and sought shelter and warmth at the school as temperatures recently dropped. She said it’s hard to say exactly how many bats have been living in the school, but there are a lot.

“You just stop counting,” she said.

To remove the bats, Harpster and one other employee have been using nets to catch the occasional low flier or simply a gloved hand for those resting within reach.

“I don’t want them to stay in there longer than they have to,” she said.

They’re also employing sticky pads atop poles for bats in hard to reach places. Williams said the surface is about the size of a sheet of paper and the bats stick when they land on it. The bat is then lowered, taken outside and sprayed with olive oil so it is able to wiggle free and fly away.

Harpster said many of the bats have been leaving on their own through open doors as the bats are afraid of humans. She has worked with the animals for 30 years and has never had one land on her.

“They’re just confused inside the building,” she said.

Williams said the district has dealt with bats at Layton High, Clearfield High School and Stewart Elementary School in the past, but never to this degree.

According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Rescuers, Brazilian Free-Tailed bats eat insects and are nocturnal, spending their summers in Utah and winters in the southwestern United States or Mexico. They’re small enough to sit in a person’s palm.

“They can squeeze through a space that’s a quarter of an inch big,” Harpster said.

It’s illegal to kill a bat in Utah and Harpster said they also can’t be moved from April 1 to Sept. 1 every year because that’s when they breed and raise their young.

She explained if a person has bats in their attic and blocks the entry and exit point from April to September, the bat parents will most likely get trapped outside while their young — or the young of several bat families — are trapped in the attic. The young bats will then try to burrow their way out, which is how a bat infestation happens. 

Harpster said if she is able to seal the school properly it will take about a week to get the remainder of the bats out of the auditorium. At the rate they’re currently working it could take longer, and cleanup afterward will also take a week.

“My understanding is we have two dampers off the auditorium at Layton High and that seemed to be the entry point,” Williams said. “We’ve since closed those. Whether they’re getting in from other areas I’m not sure.”

Any bats found deceased will be tested for rabies. Williams said Wednesday he’s unsure of the bat infestation’s financial implications at this time.

Contact education reporter Anna Burleson at aburleson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnagatorB or like her on Facebook at Facebook.com/BurlesonReports.

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