DUTCHTOWN, La. (AP) -- Furry, winged creatures about 4 inches in length with a love of mosquito dinner have found a home and a bathroom at Dutchtown High School.
Ten to 20 Mexican free-tailed bats, also known as Brazilian free-tailed bats, have been roosting behind the gutters of a building housing the school's two gyms and band and choir rooms.
State health officials tell The Advocate (http://bit.ly/1ohDa5G) the bats can pose a health concern because a small percentage of bats carry rabies.
The Ascension Parish School Board agreed to close the gym building after an inspection Thursday by the state Department of Health and Hospitals, said Olivia Watkins, DHH press secretary.
"Experts from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and the LSU Agriculture Center are working closely with Dutchtown High School to ensure bats are eradicated from the school building which houses the gym, band and choir rooms, and that bat feces, better known as guano, is properly cleaned up," Watkins said in a statement.
Distinguished from other bat species by 1.5-inch tails hanging free of the web of skin connecting their legs, Mexican free-tailed bats are colonial animals that can have roosts numbering in the hundreds of thousands and even millions. They have broad distribution across the United States.
Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico is one famously large roost, but man-made buildings, bridges and attics can also be home for smaller groups.
Johnnie Balfantz, school system spokesman, said the school system has been dealing with bats at the gym building for a while and spent $18,000 last year to try to keep the bats away.
Balfantz said the School Board has hired The Bug Man to keep the bats from returning. He said the gym was closed Friday as work began.
Balfantz could not say Friday when work on the gym will be finished but he does not expect it to be "a long-term issue." However, he said nothing will stop the bats from finding another home on a different building on campus.
"We could be chasing our tail for a long time on this," Balfantz said. "It's just unfortunate, but it's what we've got to do."