Equipped with leather gloves and an empty Folgers coffee can, Chad Keller travels across Ohio University capturing nocturnal critters that creep into buildings.
From August to early October, Keller, OU health coordinator, is busier tracking down bats in residence and lecture halls than any other time of year.
This period is known as bat season, a time when the animals become most active in Ohio, searching for new places to hang upside down and roost.
Keller said he receives between 80 and 100 complaints of bats entering university buildings each year, with 40 to 60 accumulating during the month of August alone.
“We get (bats) all over the place,” Keller said. “They can pretty much end up anywhere there’s an open window.”
As the sole point of contact through the university’s Environmental Health & Safety Department, Keller, who makes $50,980, remains on-call at all hours during the season. He also tracks down other pests such as bees, wasps, squirrels, mice, rats and ants with help from three student technicians.
Keller has received a total of 238 complaints since the beginning of 2010, according to bat complaint data through August.
Older buildings on campus elicit the most visits, Keller said, but complaints tend to be spread out across campus.
“It sounds like a lot (of complaints), but it’s really not that much when you consider that we have 215 buildings on campus,” Keller said.
The president’s house, 29 Park Place, has seen a handful of visits from the nocturnal critters throughout the years.
Since OU President Roderick McDavis and his wife, Deborah, moved in nine years ago, Deborah said she has found bats in the house five different times.
“Chad is our bat-man hero,” she said. “If there is anyone who is truly qualified and has a passion for what he does, it’s Chad.”
She said she thinks bats squeeze in through small holes in the vents and fly down into the fireplace.
“Just last week, I went into the kitchen … I thought it was a leaf inside the trash can down there, but something told me not to reach down (to pick it up),” she said. “Sure enough, it was one of those little devils. He was dead, but he was in our recycling (bin).”
Complaints across the rest of campus range from bats flying in hallways to bats hanging from light fixtures and ceiling boards.
One complaint at O’Bleness House in July led to an inspection of the attic, where a bat colony of roughly 150 to 200 bats currently exists, Keller said.
Because the colony is restricted to the attic, it is not a safety risk to students, he added.
Keller will wait to seal the screens in December when the bats move out of the building and into hibernation spots. Sealing the screens now will kill the baby bats left in roost, which would cause a major odor problem, he said.
Bats in roost are relatively easy to catch, Keller said. He captures them in an empty coffee can and then releases them into the wild. However, when bats are flying throughout the building, they are more difficult to snare.
Keara Vickers, a senior studying broadcast journalism and second-year resident assistant in Crawford Hall, said bats have entered the building multiple times.
“We were all just squealing and running around and covering our hair,” Vickers said. “Even some of the guys on the floor freaked out when it happened. But it’s something that can usually be resolved very quickly.”
Although some bats carry rabies, Keller said the mammals “aren’t aggressive” and rarely bite unless people attempt to handle them.
If a bat bites someone, the animal is taken to the Ohio Department of Health to be tested for rabies. If the test results are positive, the person will need to receive a series of rabies shots, he said.
So far in 2012, there have been 38 confirmed cases of bat rabies in Ohio, none of which have occurred in Athens, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health.
“As soon as you grab hold of them, they will chew on you like there’s no tomorrow,” Keller said. “That’s one of the reasons we take the bats very seriously on campus, because we don’t want people messing with them who don’t know what they’re doing.”