The last week of October is Bat Week! And just in time for the haunting season, Nature Hills is here to remove some of the spookiness surrounding these misunderstood winged mammals!
Eating tons of insects and saving us from expensive pesticide costs, Bats have gotten a creepy reputation thanks to their association with vampires and superstition, and the chance they carry rabies. But these little mammals are responsible for helping stop the spread of mosquito-borne diseases and help control the populations of beetles, moths, and leafhoppers among other types of insect nuisances, crop-destroying pests, and disease-bearing bugs.
There are four Bat families found in North America with about 50 native Bat species living in the United States and Canada:
Whoever it was that was in charge of naming the Bats here in the states, they didn’t have too much of an imagination - Small Brown Bat, Big Brown Bat, Big-Eared, Long-Eared, Spotted… Gray (Yawn!). But there are also Silver-Haired, Rafinesque, Pallid, Free-Tailed, and so many more here in the States. While these names do tell us exactly what these creatures look like, they don’t sound very snazzy.
Especially when other countries have Bats named Buettikofer's Epauletted Fruit Bat, Giant Golden-Crowned Flying Fox, Eastern Tube-Nosed Bat, and Wrinkle-Lipped Free-Tailed Bat.
Around the world and here in the States, there are Bats with incredibly unusual noses like Pendlebury's Roundleaf Bat and Tomes's Sword-nosed Bat. Others have wild ears like the Heart-Nosed Bat or the Spotted Bat which has the largest ears of any North American Bat!
Many have unusual faces like the Hammer-Headed and Visored Bat! And you need to get a look at the Chapin’s Free-Tailed Bat that sports a mohawk. Plus there’s the gorgeous red fur of the Eastern Red Bat. Check out the pretty wing patterns of the Painted Bat. And who can ignore the adorable faces of the Honduran White Bat?
First off, a bit of a caveat regarding Bats. These are mammals and can bite when mishandled or afraid. Never handle Bats unless you are a trained professional! Call your local humane society or pest control for help assisting a grounded, injured, or sickly Bat. Because they are mammals, they can carry rabies - just like any other mammal!
But also like mammals, food, water, and shelter are the primary needs! Most of the Bats found in the US are insectivorous or nectar-eating and hibernate in the winter, but not all Bats roost in large colonies or in caves. Many roost solitarily under tree bark and within the leaves of trees like the Hoary Bat in Hawaii. Other species migrate instead of hibernating, traveling short distances around 1,200-1,500 miles (2,000 kilometers) for the winter.
Some are nectarivorous and (like bees and hummingbirds) have long tongues to reach the nectar in night-blooming flowers. Those living in desert areas appreciate the Pallid Bat since they readily munch on scorpions and spiders! (And thank a Bat for your next margarita! Agave Plants are pollinated by Bats!)
If you don’t have any place for Bats to roost in, a Bat Box is an easy-to-install shelter option! Choose non-toxic wood such as plywood and plywood with a waterproof cover and some non-moisture holding material for them to climb and cling to inside, or grooves for them to grip onto. Best Bat houses also should have 3 chambers minimum. There are even free-standing towers that support large colonies.
Find DIY plans to make your own at the Bat Conservation International or National Wildlife Federation, or buy a pre-built Bat House online or in local garden centers and hardware stores.
Hang a Bat house or standing tower at least 10 to 15 feet above the ground and place them in a sunny spot where they can absorb lots of heat during the day. Bats need to drop into the air and need enough clearance to become airborne. This is why you often see Bats get grounded - if there is nothing for them to climb high enough onto to take off, they get stuck.
Place the Bat house in a location that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day, specifically facing south, east, or southeast in most climates, and choose a dark color to absorb heat. The ideal temperature for Bats to raise their young is between 80-100°F (27-38°C).
Don’t wait with bated breath for Bats to move in - it can take 1-4 years before you see any activity. But once they find a home they like, Bats will return year after year to the same house if they find it suitable - and they’ll bring their kids and some friends along with them!
Bats only use Bat boxes during the summer to roost and raise young, come winter, some migrate to warmer climates or because Bats are endothermic (warm-blooded) they will hibernate in other areas of the country.
Bat House maintenance should be performed when it is vacant to sterilize it and keep paper wasps from moving in. Replace rotting wood and caulk drafty joints to keep them as protected as possible.
Or you can just not be too hasty to cut down that old tree in the backyard. As long as a dead tree isn’t a harm to people or property - leave it for the Bats!
The other thing Bats need as insectivores are - insects!
Bats of North America can eat over 1,000 mosquitoes per hour! A single Little Brown Bat can eat 60 mid-sized moths or 1,000 mosquito-sized flies a night. Those of us that despise those little blood-suckers are always grateful to see a Dragonfly or Bat flying around our garden! Plus Bats save U.S. farmers an estimated $1 billion every year in free pest control.
To attract Bats and keep them around, it’s important not to spray your plants with excess pesticides and herbicides, since the insects can pick up these chemicals and get eaten before the insect dies, poisoning the Bat that just ate them!
Bats need water like everything else and will always be within about a quarter mile of a large water source. No water around - add a water source like a bird bath or pond. Not only do they give Bats a place to drink from, and water attracts insects to congregate around them - and Bats happily eat them. Choose a type of water source that Bats can skim water from the surface to drink while in mid-flight. Most Bats need grips or an edge to cling to but also have enough height to drop from and get back on the wing.
Bats that drink nectar need evening and night-blooming flowers to feed them. Some types of these blooms include:
Not only will you feed these flying mammals, but they pollinate flowers too! Lights in your landscape can also attract insects giving Bats an easy buffet!
Half of our Vespertilionidae bats are threatened by extinction. A lot of those face White-Nose Syndrome (an invasive fungal disease), killing millions since 2006, and more have died as a result of habitat loss and pesticides.
Other problems Bats face are housecats and feral cats. Solve this by bringing in your feline pets before dusk to help keep your Bat populations safe too. They’re most active 2-3 hours after dusk to feed and move around.
Bats are also facing continued persecution as vermin and disease-carrying pests. While they - and almost all mammals really - have the potential to carry disease and rabies, they are anything but vermin. Yes, a colony of Bats can make a mess when the guano starts to pile up in your attic, and you should be careful to never handle them unless you are a trained and vaccinated professional.
But that doesn't stop folks from killing entire colonies or any Bat they come across, instead of finding a more humane way of relocation. That is why so many states have laws protecting threatened and endangered Bat populations. There are other options than villainizing these poor creatures just looking for a comfy home for the winter when the whole world around them is turning into Cul de Sacs and parking lots.
If you should have a Bat problem - Bats roosting where they shouldn’t be or getting into your home - call a licensed professional to remove and relocate them, never try taking care of the problem on your own.
Want one creepy-crawly Bat fact that’s true? There are three species of Vampire Bats on our continent! But only one specimen has ever been recorded flying into the United States - in extreme southwest Texas! Their native range is from Mexico to Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina and includes the Common Vampire Bat, the Hairy-Legged Vampire Bat, and a White-Winged Vampire Bat.
Vampire bats do not suck blood, rather they make a small cut with their sharp front teeth and lap up the blood with their tongue. Feeding off of livestock, deer, wild pigs, and even seals!
Pollinating and seed dispersal, biting and stinging insect removal, and helping crops and costs, Bats have loads of benefits for humans and the environment! Carving out a slice of your landscape for local wildlife won't cost you any curb appeal or home value, but you will enjoy all the perks these creatures bring to your landscape!
With a live-and-let-live attitude and a hands-off approach, you’ll have fewer itchy bites, see less damage to your plants and notice a decline in insect-borne disease in your area with the inclusion of a few Bats! Mostly mosquito-spread diseases like Zika virus, West Nile virus, Malaria, and Dengue fever, all of which are stopped from spreading thanks to a few furry fliers.
Many species are now protected by law because of how threatened their existence is, so they need all the help we can give them. Reach out to NatureHills.com for help making your landscape a happy, healthy home for all!
Next time you see one of these flapping furry mammals silently flying around your home, rejoice! You’ve just gained some free bug control!