Renters in one building of the Cinnamon Cove Apartments have been sleeping with one eye open, watching for squeaky, sharp-fanged bats to drop at any moment.
"We got bats flying all over in here," said Carrie Covington, one of three residents who reported seeing the furry intruders in their homes. "I don't know where they're coming from ... You can hear them, just squeaking, making all kind of noise."
A team of bat wranglers found about 1,000 of the winged mammals roosting in the attic of one apartment building. The hunters plan to allow the children of the night to leave their roosts over the next few nights and block their return in the morning.
Cinnamon Cove Apartments, on 15th Street north of Fowler Avenue, is a half-world away from the Carpathian Mountains, but it has become Tampa's newest bat roost.
Wildlife experts think the bats were forced to move there after their habitat, a patch of woods adjacent to the complex, was recently leveled by bulldozers.
Renter Michael Green saw his first bat during the weekend inside his apartment. He opened the door and allowed the leathery-winged intruder to escape.
"Then we went to a party Saturday night and came home late," he said, "and then two more bats had come into the apartment.
"I haven't been able to sleep," he said. "I stayed up all night Sunday night and … when I woke up Monday morning … two of them [were at] the window."
The property manager moved a handful of tenants to other apartments until the bats can be dealt with. A spokeswoman for the complex declined to comment Wednesday.
The vexing beasts linked to vampires and other ghastly legends now have fallen under the torchlight of Trent Lima, operations manager with Wildlife Solutions, an animal trapping and relocation service.
"They are up in the ceiling area on the second floor of that apartment building," he said. The bats don't want to be in the apartments, mingling with humans, he said.
"The roost has outgrown itself," Lima said. "They keep packing in and packing in, and now they're crawling down the walls."
Preliminary estimates put the bat population at 1,000.
"It's pretty bad," Lima said, and it could take four to seven days to rid the building of the beasts.
"We just started the first phase," he said Wednesday. "We have identified where the roosts are.
"Sometimes, it's very visible where the roosts are," he said, because of the staining by urine and guano.
"Sometimes, you can't find where they roost unless you go out there at night and see them coming out of an opening and dropping into flight."
In the morning, bat catchers watch to see how the critters get back in.
The next step is to block all exits and entrances except for one. Then, an "eviction device" is placed at that opening. It allows bats to exit, but won't let them back in. It's like a one-way door, Lima said.
They don't all leave the roost at the same time, but over the course of the night, most head out to munch bugs. Bats forage at night and if they return to their roost and find it blocked, he said, they will find another place to hang, literally, during the day.
Wildlife Solutions averages about two to three calls a week about bats in Hillsborough County buildings, Lima said.
"The public thinks it's rare, but it's very common," he said. "They are in a lot of residential homes and commercial buildings and people don't even know about them."
Bats that find roosts in man-made structures generally snooze in attics or in cozy spaces high up in buildings. They are small and can squeeze into very small holes.
People seldom see bats coming and going.
"People call after they smell them," he said. Guano, he said, stinks like "musky ammonia." And that's the biggest health problem posed by bats, he said. Guano can cause upper-respiratory infections in humans.
It's illegal to kill bats because they are beneficial to people. They eat large quantities of bugs, particularly mosquitoes, every night and are generally not aggressive toward people.
"They're good," Lima said. "We love bats. They are great. We like to get bats out of buildings" and back into hollow trees, their natural homes. "They don't want to be in commercial or residential buildings, but we are taking their trees away from them, forcing them into structures.
"It's all about survival."