A reminder of the effectiveness of bats came this last Fourth of July when we invited Friends over, shared some adult beverages and watched the incredible Addison, Texas Kaboom Town fireworks display – one of the best shows in our nation. Music for the display is broadcast over a local radio station so we turn on our boom box, set up west facing chairs in the deserted street along with many of our neighbors and then enjoy the show.
As it turned out the fireworks weren’t the only show. At dusk the skies were filled with bats swooping hither and yon feasting on insects and we hopefully surmised – mostly mosquitos. We already had anti mosquito lamps burning and with all liberally doused with mosquito repellant (Yes, lots of DEET) we felt OK. But, the bats were the unexpected kicker, stars of the show, like little guardians watching over us.
If you aren’t convinced yet, let’s put things in perspective. Austin, Texas is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America (an estimated 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats) that can be viewed from the Congress Avenue Bridge when they swoop into the Texas skies each evening. They consume some 10,000 to 30,000 pounds of insects every night. The world's largest colony of bats is located in Bracken Bat Cave, northeast of San Antonio. Each night, those 20 million Mexican free-tail bats devour 200 tons of insects. The positive impact on Texas agriculture is immeasurable.
For you and me in our neighborhoods where a bat census hasn’t happened, we can go by the law of averages. One bat can consume up to 1,200 mosquito-sized insects every hour with each bat usually eating from 6,000 to 8,000 insects each night. That translates to 50% or more of their body weight each Dallas evening. As Mother Earth News assures, “Natural insect control is their specialty.” It just makes good sense to harness and even encourage that natural instinct for our benefit.
For us here in Dallas and north Texas our guardian is the Little Brown Bat. It’s apparent that there is plenty of bat habitat in our neighborhood though just where that is – we aren’t exactly sure though probably in our trees. We can help bolster those populations by building what I’m calling bat boxes or roosts/shelters/houses like I did at my last two homes in Georgia. They are simple to construct and they work. Many bird specialty shops or big box stores like Wal¶Mart or Internet retailers like Amazon.com sell them. Some of the manufacturers include Heartwood, BestNest, Audubon and Coveside among many others. If you want to commit even further in your support for bat conservation you can buy bat houses or kits direct from the Organization for Bat Conservation (OBC) and from their web site http://store.batconservation.org. I like the Heartwood Victorian Bat House painted dark red as pictured above but it all depends on your taste and probably the color of your house. I hope my bats like Victorian as much as I do….OK, they probably don’t care.
If you are going to build that better bat house, we recommend guidance from one of my favorite Internet sites, the Mother Earth News which is as they say, “the original guide to living wisely.” They have proved that since 1970. We heartily recommend them. Mother Earth News offers the following advice for building that Better Bat House.
“A bat house in your backyard, or several around your garden or farm, will provide bats with a place to live. The bats will repay you by eating your insect pests. To attract and keep bats artificial shelters must simulate the bat's natural habitat through style and location.
Bat houses should be made of exterior plywood or rough cedar. The inside of the house should have grooves every quarter inch, or polyethylene plastic mesh on the front and back of the house. The house should be at least 2 feet tall and 16 inches wide with a three-quarter to one inch opening. Use galvanized screws to assemble the house, and caulk it to keep the bats warm and dry. Adding a ceiling at the top of the house just below the roof and leaving a quarter-inch space about 6 inches from the bottom opening will create needed temperature variation. Be sure to leave a 4 to 6 inch area below the opening to serve as a landing spot. You can increase your chances of attracting bats by using a dark brown or black, non-toxic, water-based exterior paint or stain on the outside of the house to make the inside warmer for maternity colonies raising young (do not paint the interior).
Placement of the house is critical. Bat houses should be at least 12 feet off the ground, face south or southeast, and receive at least six hours of direct sun each day. The house should face an open area with at least 20 feet of clearance, so the bats can come and go with ease. Bat houses can be mounted on poles, garages, barns, chimneys, and trees. Be aware, however, that houses on trees are harder for bats to find and will take longer to become occupied if leaves obscure the house.”
Credible plans to build bat houses can be found on many Internet sites to include the OBC site at http://www.batconservation.org/drupal/free_plans and also at the National Wildlife Fund site at http://www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Outdoor-Activities/Garden-for-Wildlife/Gardening-Tips/Build-a-Bat-House.aspx.
So what about these so-called bat removal services? Well, if you have bats in the attic or walls of your home, you have a problem and need to call a responsible animal/wildlife control and removal service. Remember since bats are environmentally beneficial they are protected by both State of Texas and Federal law. In short, you can’t remove them by killing them hence the necessity to call licensed wildlife control professionals. Folks like that can humanely exit (they call it bat exclusion) those animals from your home and even find alternate digs for them.
If you are just concerned because you’ve noticed bats on your property and not properly educated yet, were alarmed? Don’t worry about it. Have a Bat Party and invite all your Friends over to celebrate and thank our natural sky guardians. And, if you really have to go outside, remember, lightly colored, tightly woven long sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, hat and slather on plenty of repellent containing DEET. Oh yes, shoes…
While bats are interesting and beneficial animals, we need note that they can spread rabies. If you find an injured, sick, or dead bat, do NOT touch it. Notify your local animal control agency or local health department and they will send someone out to retrieve the deceased. Before you cop to a “told you so”, the last real palpable (barely) outbreak of rabies in Dallas was several cases in 2009. In addition, once bats contract rabies, they die soon thereafter. With less than half of 1% of the almost 1,000 different species of bats with rabies, you are much more likely to contract rabies from an unvaccinated dog or cat.
Sidebar: While walking the dog again this morning I met an elderly gentleman (I guess in his 70’s) wearing a hat, t-shirt, shorts and sneakers. He stopped his walk/jog to say hello whereupon we exchanged pleasantries. I asked him if he was aware that there was WNV in the neighborhood? He responded yes and then offered that his wife had been haranguing him about his failure to take any precautions against WNV. He then offered that mosquitos just don’t bother him. I wanted to retort that it only took one interested and infected mosquito though he just smiled and continued on his journey. We wish him well…