The Truth About Bats
Jun 21st, 2012 | By MaryEllen | Category: Animal husbandry, Education, Top Headline | Print This Article
Few animals have inspired so much fear, controversy, and the creation of myths than the bat. Only the shark can compare. Bats have gotten a bad rap throughout history from bloodsuckers to vampires and horror stories to the still-prevalent belief that they are likely to give you rabies. The truth is that bats are a vital part of ecosystems throughout the world. These flying mammals are important for a variety of reasons; yes, there are a few species that eat blood, but they don’t generally feed on humans.
Facts About Bats
One of the main reasons that bats are so feared and mistakenly blamed for disease is ignorance. With knowledge, you can show others that bats are not only not bad to have around, they are actually quite good to have on your property.
- Ancient animals. Bats have been on the earth since the time of dinosaurs, over one hundred million years ago. They live in almost every environment on earth.
- Healthy appetites. Most bat species, about two thirds of them, prey on insects. They fly around at night and use echolocation, the bouncing of sound waves off of objects, to find insects in the dark. One little brown bat can eat around one thousand insects in one night. A few species even eat larger prey like mice, frogs, and fish. Roughly one third of bat species eat fruit and nectar.
- Vampires. Yes, there are vampire bats. There are three species of bats that consume blood. However, they do not suck it from their victims, and their victims don’t usually die from the experience. Vampire bats find sleeping animals in the night, such as cows, pigs, goats, and birds, and make an incision in their skin. They then lap up the blood from the wound. These bats only require two tablespoons of blood each day. Even vampire bats have been found to be useful to humans. They contain certain compounds in their saliva that prevent the wounds they inflict from coagulating so they can get more blood. These compounds have been useful in medicine as anticoagulants that increase blood flow in stroke victims.
- Disappearing act. Bat populations are declining dangerously all around the world. In North America in recent years, a disturbing illness called white nose syndrome is devastating important bat populations with no cure in sight.
Why You Love Bats
Bats are not just amazing and fascinating creatures; they are also incredibly important to ecosystems and useful to humans. Their myriad benefits and the fact that they are declining in numbers are good reasons for you to learn about, appreciate, and encourage the presence of bats on your property. Tell your neighbors about them too, and you can create a healthy bat ecosystem in your whole neighborhood!
For plants to reproduce and make more of themselves as well as their fruits, they must be pollinated. Insects and animals are responsible for this task, and bats are one of the most important pollinators of all. They do this by eating fruit and nectar and transferring pollen from one plant to another in the process. They also disperse the seeds of plants when they eat the fruits. Many agricultural plants are dependent on bats for pollination. Without them we would not have peaches, bananas, avocados, and figs, as well as many other fruits and nuts.
The most noticeable benefit of bats for most people occurs right in the backyard. Bats eat thousands of insects every night. If you have bats in your yard, you have a natural mosquito exterminator. Summer evenings out on the deck are much more enjoyable if you have bats around. Besides your own comfort, bats are crucial in keeping down the populations of all kinds of pestilent critters. With bats controlling populations of beetles, moths, and many other insects, the use of chemical pesticides can be kept to a minimum.
Not only do bats keep mosquito populations low, they protect you from disease. With fewer mosquitoes, you are less likely to get a disease transmitted by these insects. West Nile virus, for instance, would be much more prevalent without bats around. Thanks to vampire bat saliva, we have an anticoagulant for use in heart disease and stroke patients. Their use of echolocation to find food at night has led to devices that help blind people navigate their surroundings.
As if all of the above were not enough to make you adore bats, they have one final use. Guano, which is bat droppings, is a very effective and natural fertilizer. Guano is rich in nitrogen and has been used for years to enrich soil. You can find it especially in caves where large quantities of bats roost during the day.
How to Get Bats in Your Yard
If you have insects, you probably have bats. But, there are some things you can do to ensure you get your fair share, or more, of the local bat population. Insects are what they want to eat, so consider having an outside light on as the sun goes down. Bats are attracted to these areas because they have learned that insects flock to lights. Night-blooming plants will draw in a bat’s favorite food: moths. A few blooming shrubberies will draw in moths, then bats, and you can watch your mosquitoes disappear. Bats also need a water source, so provide them with a birdbath. Birds will use it during the day, and bats at night.
What you don’t want to have around is pesticides or cats. Minimize your use of pesticides, which are harmful to bats and other wildlife, not to mention it gets rid of their food source. You outdoor cats are also a threat to bats. Keep them inside at night when bats are active.
The above suggestions will help attract bats, but the single best thing you can do is to provide them with a home. Place one or more, depending on the size of your property, bat houses around your yard to encourage them to take up permanent residence. These are rectangular, wooden boxes that you mount high up on tree trunks, telephone poles, or the side of a building. You can buy bat houses or make your own out of scrap wood. According to Bat Conservation International, there are several things to make your bat houses highly attractive to bats.
- Location. The most successful houses are those mounted on buildings or poles as opposed to tree trunks. Keep in mind that guano will drop from the bottom of the house, so don’t place it in a spot where this will cause a problem. If you want to affix your house to the side of a building, set it several inches out from the wall to avoid guano and urine stains.
- Temperature. The optimal temperature for the interior of a bat house is between 80 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. To control the temperature, you must consider the color of the house, its location, and amount of sun exposure. Painting the house black will help it absorb heat and warm up throughout the day. Facing it so that it gets the most sun exposure also helps. For most people, this means facing the house south or southeast.
- Maintain. Once you have resident bats, you will need to keep their house well maintained so they don’t move out. The bats will leave in the winter, so this is a good time to clean out wasp nests, repaint, and repair caulking.
- Keep it dark. Bats prefer a dark home, so stain or paint the interior of your houses a dark color.
- Make sure they can cling. The interior surfaces of the bat house need to be rough so the bats can hold on. Smooth, sanded wood will not appeal to them.
- Don’t go overboard. You can create more than one chamber in your bat box, but don’t make more than three or four. An overcrowded bat house is not safe for the animals.
It may take more than one season to get a good population of bats on your property, so be patient. If bats don’t move into your bat houses after one year, though, try moving them to different locations and check the temperatures to be sure they are warm enough. With the right set up, you should be able to get these magnificent animals to flock to your yard.
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