In Macbeth, the three witches add wool of bat to their boil-and-bubble.

Vampires transform themselves into bats, the better to swoop in on the nearest maidenly neck for a vespertilian nip.

And in 1332, the good people of France publicly burned Lady Jacaume of Bayonne as a witch because of the bats flying around her house and garden.

As Halloween approaches, it’s fair to say that Western culture has not done well by our only flying mammal. It’s hard to think of a creature, other than snakes, that gives humans such a serious case of the willies.

Robert Boone, one of the owners of American Bio-Tech Wildlife Services in New Milford, has been removing bats from people’s homes for decades. He finds little bat sympathy in the stories people tell him.

“Some are funny, some are sad,” he said.

But the macabre aside, there is this: Bats — which chow down on millions of insects every night — are incredibly valuable to the environment.

And they are also victims of one of the greatest ecological catastrophes in North American history. Thanks to a Eurasian fungus some human errantly tracked into the New York state cave, nearly 7 million bats have died in the US and Canada in little more than a decade.

In response, some people are erecting bat houses, in the same way they put up houses for wrens and bluebirds. In New Milford, O&G Industries has carved out a new, uncontaminated hibernaculum — a bat cave — in its limestone quarry there.

“Two bats overwintered there the first year,” said Ken Faroni, O&G’s director of planning and permits. “One bat overwintered there the second year.”

O&G and the staff from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection are working to adjust the cave’s humidity and temperature in hopes more bats will avail themselves of the new digs, Faroni said.

“Hopefully, the word will spread,” he said

The DEEP is watching and listening. It wants the general public to join in, by reporting bat sightings. To learn more, go the DEEP webpage at https://www.ct.gov/deep/

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Bats aren’t what people think. While they can carry rabies, only about one-half of 1 percent of the bat population is infected with it. For such seemingly fleeting and fragile creatures, they can be long-lived, fluttering around for 20 years or more.

The disease that’s killing so many bats prematurely — commonly called white-nose syndrome because it leaves a white residue around a bat’s snout — is caused by a fungus that someone accidentally transported into cave in New York.

People began reporting serious bat die-offs in New York after the winter of 2007-2008. In the following year, it showed up in Connecticut. It’s now spread as far west as Texas and California.

It’s done immeasurable damage.

Jenny Dickson, director of the DEEP’s wildlife division, said one species — the long-eared bat — used to be found in every town in the state. It’s now vanishing from the scene. Another, the little brown bat, has declined by 90 percent.

The old iron mine at Mine Hill Preserve in Roxbury used to shelter about 3,000 bats every winter.

“The last time we checked, there were about a dozen,” Dickson said. “We’ve stopped going there because we don’t wasn’t to disturb the bats that are living there.”

The success story — if a somewhat-less-horrible loss can be called a success — is the big brown bat, which Dickson said, has declined by about 40 percent in the state.

It’s the bat that still shows up in people’s houses, and that Boone at American Bio-Tech in New Milford has to roust out.

They don’t hang upside down in attics. Instead, they nest between a home’s walls and its insulation, trying to find a sweet spot of about 55 degrees.

Once excluded, they don’t fly away. They stay in the same territory, often moving into a neighboring house.

“They come back, year after year,” Boone said.

Dickson said the state is only beginning to understand what part migrating bats, which spend the summer in the state’s trees then head south for the winter, play in the state’s ecology. There’s more to learn.

And spreading that knowledge makes people less bat-phobic. Consider it a dark spell broken.

“People used to say ‘I hate them, I want to get rid of them,’” Dickson said. “Now I’m hearing ‘I don’t like them. But how can I learn to live with them?’”

Connecticut Media Group