Ah, summer. Sun, sand, vacations, and millions of mosquitoes. The quest to combat these pesky bugs (and thousands of others) can take up a good portion of your summer. A simple solution, however, is to enlist the help of a member of the animal kingdom. Bats.
Bats might not be the first creature you would choose to hire. For centuries, bats have been hailed as blood-sucking vermin that will dive into your hair and scare you out of an old building (the scene from the movie Jumanji always comes to my mind).
Bats, nonetheless, are actually quite harmless. And much more similar to humans that we would realize. For starters, we are both mammals – warm blooded, furry creatures. Bat’s wings are actually more akin to large hands – five fingers with a thin web of skin attaching them. They can move each finger to quickly change their flight direction.
Anatomical similarities are not the only things connecting us to our flying cousins. Bats actually fulfill many humanistic traits that we tend to only indulge in during the holidays – the desire to gorge on food and take a long nap. For that reason, they make perfect bug-catchers.
Eat, drink, and be merry
Little Brown Bats, the bats that we have here at Greenfield State Park (and one of the most common bats in North America) are impressive eaters. These bats eat a whopping 50% of their body weight a night – that’s the same as a 150-pound human eating 30 large pizzas! And when female bats are pregnant or nursing, that number goes up to 110% (that’s 66 pizzas!). Talk about a gluttonous life.
And all of that gluttony means one things for us – a significant (think in the thousands) decrease in the bug population.
How to hire a bat
Getting bats to live near your yard is easier than you might expect. Bats are generally interested in two things – eating and sleeping. Got bugs? Check. Now, all you need is a place for the bats to sleep, and it’s go time. Bats like to hang out (literally) in roosts. Here, they will hang by their feet in colonies with other bats (sometimes as large as 300,000 bats).
In the summer, little brown bats like to roost in warm spaces near water. Pregnant and nursing females (the ones that eat the most bugs) especially want these hot places like in an attic or barn (80-100 degrees!). Here is your bat house checklist to ensure the best success.
Boxes should be at least 25 inches tall to attract a good number of bats to them.
Bats want those hot roosts (aka – buildings), so put your bat box on one. Also, placing the box of the south/southeastern part of the building will utilize the sun to naturally heat the boxes. Remember, dark colors absorb more heat – so try painting your box black.
Make sure the box is at least 12-20 feet off of the ground.
Bats have enemies too, so make sure that your bats are safe from the things trying to eat them. Keep houses 20-25 feet away from branches, wires, or other perches for flying predators.
No one likes a dirty house. Make sure you clear the box of other critters and guano (bat droppings) in the winter.
The plans to build a bat house can be found here: Bat Box Plans.
Want to learn more about bats and see them in person? Check out my Saturday evening program “What’s Up in the Night?” at Greenfield Sate Park to reconnect with our flying bug-catchers.
To learn about more bat house plans, check out Bat Conservation International(www.batcon.org).
—Ranger Rachel, Greenfield State Park Interpreter
Seeking more information? I got the majority of mine from these websites: