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Originally published Friday, November 3, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Historic Georgia town plagued by bats

The grand historic mansions of this Southern town have become infested with millions of bats — so many that the sky turns black with...

The Associated Press

AMERICUS, Ga. — The grand historic mansions of this Southern town have become infested with millions of bats — so many that the sky turns black with each sunset. So many that not even the neighborhood Batman can help.

"This town is in bad shape," said George Perkins, a bat remover who often makes public appearances in the caped crusader's costume and drives his own Batmobile, a retro-styled Chrysler Prowler.

Homeowners are not laughing. The bat problem began about a decade ago and got steadily worse as the number of animals grew. Perkins cannot do the job alone anymore, and now the state has promised to help, proposing a yearlong program to capture and move the flying mammals to "bat houses," where they will no longer be a nuisance.

Tripp Pomeroy spent $1,500 trying to evict bats from the attic of his 96-year-old home in Americus, a town of 17,000 people 116 miles south of Atlanta. Bats are the leading cause of human rabies in the United States, and that makes Pomeroy reluctant to let his children sleep in their upstairs bedrooms.

Many of the bats have settled into the town's historic district, known for its antebellum and Greek Revival mansions built in the 1800s, and Victorian homes from the early 1900s.

The free-tailed bats normally dwell in caves in Texas and farther west but have been making their way into the Southeast, particularly over the past three decades. Experts say they are drawn to Americus because it has an unusually large number of old houses, which are not as well sealed up as new homes and have lots of crevices in their attics that allow bats to slip in.

The bats swarm out in the evening, helping to curb the insect population by eating mosquitoes and other pests. But as the sun comes up, they return to their dark attic lairs, where they urinate and leave piles of smelly guano.

"In some areas, the odor is unbearable on hot summer days," said Lane Tyson, 26, who fights to keep bats out of his early-1900s home.

Residents are not allowed to kill the bats because they are protected under Georgia law. Killing even one carries up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Those who can afford professional help call Perkins, who founded his company, Bat Busters, in the early 1990s. Perkins uses sealant and wire mesh to close gaps and create one-way doors that let the bats out but not in.

After years of frustration, homeowners sought help from state officials. The Department of Natural Resources proposed a plan that includes training city workers to remove bats and erecting bat houses, which resemble bird houses and can hold hundreds of bats.

"We recognize that bats provide a valuable ecological service by consuming vast quantities of night-flying insects, many of which are significant pests to farmers and homeowners," said Mike Harris, the state's top wildlife official. "However, we certainly don't expect people to tolerate bats roosting in their homes and businesses."

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