Bats Benefit The Environment—And Your Homestead

Worldwide, bats receive an undeserved bad rep. If asked, most people worldwide will say they don’t like bats. Bats smell bad, they’re creepy, dangerous, and are typically portrayed as scary in numerous horror films.

bats hanging in a tree at sunset

Some bats just hangin’ out. Michael Coghlan / Flickr (Creative Commons)

The majority of folks questioned would likely tell you that bats are “flying rats” that carry disease. Simply put, they are dirty and that they transmit rabies. Even more outlandish, many people believe that bats will fly into your hair and become entangled.

De-Bunking Bat Legends, Folklore, And Myths

In cultures around the globe, misconceptions about bats and bat behavior are prevalent. For instance, there is a common theory that bats are blind. However, not only are bats not blind, but they can see as well as most other mammals. Bats do not become entangled in human hair or fly blindly into stationary objects. Rather, they utilize echolocation to accurately navigate in total darkness.


Regarding any other myths, here are some facts about bats:

  • Bats seldom transmit disease to humans or animals.
  • Bats are relatively harmless and serve as indicators of a healthy ecosystem.
  • Efficient pollinators and voracious predators of nocturnal insects, bats have a substantial economic and ecological impact on agriculture.
  • Fruit-eating bats disperse seeds.

A Keen Sense Of Hearing

Something else to keep in mind is that many bat species are gifted with a highly evolved sense of hearing. Bats emit sounds, which bounce off of obstructions in their flight path and then echo back to guide the bats. The texture, size, and distance from an object is determined in seconds.

Bats Are Our Allies, Not Our Enemies

Worldwide, insects dominate every terrestrial environment that supports life. Insects are man’s most significant competitor for food and fiber. Bugs suck the life out of plants by consuming plant juices, chomping on leaves and stems, boring into stems and tree trunks, and spreading disease-breeding pathogens.

Feeding on fiber, insects ruin stored grain, destroy wooden structures, and accelerate the process of organic decay. Insects negatively impact human and animal health by transmitting disease, causing annoyance and inflicting painful stings and bites. In general, they’re an all-around nuisance.

Who says #bats aren't cute? But more than that they're vital for a balanced and healthy ecosystem. Bats act as natural pest control, eating thousands of insects ever night! (That includes pesky mosquitos.) (Photo: Egyptian fruit bat, Nicole Vidal, USFWS)


A post shared by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (@usfws) on

World economists agree that insects destroy or consume up to 10 percent of developed countries gross product, and more than 25 percent of the gross national product of developing countries.

Devouring a diverse array of flying insect pests, bats are one of mankind’s biggest allies in the war against predatory insects. These insects devastate crops, infest property, and cost homesteaders, farmers, and ranchers billions of dollars in property damage and crop loss each year.

As an example of their contribution, in three caves located near San Antonio, Texas the bats eat about one million pounds of insects nightly. Texas would be a very “buggy” state without the bats. Bats are also so prevalent and popular in Indiana that the local folks hold an annual festival in their honor.

Here are some more examples of how bats work to mitigate insect problems:

  • By consuming so many insects, bats reduce the use of toxic chemical pesticides in the environment.
  • Bats help control infestations of moths, mosquitoes, leafhoppers, aphids, fleas, flies, wasps, and beetles.
  • Insects avoid areas occupied by bats.

Do you know that installing a bat house on your property is one of the most environmentally friendly and effective methods of reducing the insect population near your home? Like the majority of wildlife, the world bat population is diminished by a loss of habitat. Clear-cutting of forest vegetation is the primary cause. Homesteaders can help bats by providing a welcoming environment and putting up bat houses. Check out this bat house on Amazon that is designed by the Organization for Bat Conservation.

Alternatively, some savvy homesteaders build bat houses, positioning them on their home, barns, and sheds. When bats move into the boxes, insects become less plentiful and annoying in areas surrounding these structures.

Bats Are Important Pollinators

Bats fill an important ecological niche in the pollination of plants. A good example is the great baobab tree, native to the East Africa Savanna, is crucial to the survival of so many different species that it is commonly called the “African Tree of Life.” Almost exclusively, baobab tree pollination is dependent on bats. Baobab trees would die without the bats, triggering the collapse of one of the planet’s most crucial ecosystems.

As good stewards of the earth, it’s important for us to know as much as we can about this mysterious, misunderstood animal. The more we know, the better our chances are of protecting bats and their fragile environment.

Bat Facts

There are a lot more bats around than people realize. Most people have never, or rarely, seen a bat. The best time to catch a sighting of a bat is at dusk. Just before dark, they can be spotted feeding over ponds, streams, lakes, and ocean shorelines.

Nocturnal by nature, bats roost hanging upside down. With their tiny toes, bats firmly attach themselves to crevices, cracks, and tree roots in caves, outbuildings, rock outcroppings, lofts, and attics. From an inverted position, the small mammals naturally release their grasp and drop from the roost. The momentum gained from falling helps propel the little creatures airborne. In fact, most bats find it impossible to take flight from a flat surface.

Here are some more general facts about bats that you may not have known:

  • There are more than 1,000 species of bats.
  • Some species of bats “hang-out” together in groups of up to a million, while other bat species are solitary.
  • While most species of bats are migratory, others seek winter shelter in structures, caves, and mines during the long hibernation.
  • More than one-fourth of all mammal species are bats.
  • Although a few mammals can glide through the air, bats are the only mammals capable of continuous flight.
  • Bats inhabit every part of the world except extreme desert environments and areas subject to arctic cold.
  • Elongated fingers combined with membranes stretched between the wing of a bat, anatomically mimicking the human hand.
  • Beneficial to organic gardens, bat guano is one of the most nutrient rich natural fertilizers available.

Bat Species

The little brown bat is a friendly creature found throughout the Northwestern United States. They can consume more than 1,200 nocturnal insects, such as mosquitoes, in less than an hour. West Nile Virus, a disease that kills horses and humans, transmits primarily by mosquitoes. In areas where West Nile Virus is prevalent, bat houses are encouraged as an effective and environmentally friendly method of mosquito eradication.

Two other bats commonly found in northern regions are the Hoary Bat and the Big Brown Bat. Both species are migratory, heading south in search of winter warmth. Native to Canada and the Northern United States, many hoary bats winter in Hawaii while others seek respite in Central and South America. Hoary bats are solitary creatures, and typically roost in trees.

It’s hard to call a bat beautiful, but the hoary bat is impressive.

A Hoary Bat on a stump.

This little guy is relaxing in Hawaii to escape the cold. Forest and Kim Starr / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Sporting a long body covered in dense grey-brown fur with white tips, the hoary bat’s coat looks frosted in appearance. White patches of fur on the shoulders and wrist of the bat are offset by a distinctive patch of yellow throat fur. The tiny, rounded ears of the hoary bat are marked with a band of black fur. Female hoary bats are typically larger than the males. Unfortunately, as a result of deforestation and general use pesticides, hoary bats are an endangered species. However, this gives you an even better excuse to invest in a bat house!

Welcome Bats To Your Homestead

To attract bats to your homestead, you need to provide the basic requirements of all wildlife: food, water, and shelter. Scientists tell us that bats can lose up to 50 percent of their body weight from water loss daily. Although they are talented at finding food and shelter, water is a necessity. If you have a water feature, such as a stream, pond, or birdbath, on your property you are more likely to successfully attract bats to your homestead.

Herbs and fragrant flowers, including night-blooming flowers, attract nocturnal insects, which in turn will attract bats to your landscape. Marigolds, creeping thyme, honeysuckle, and raspberries are good choices. Keep in mind, any light-colored, fragrant flower, which insects can easily see in the dark are fine choices when planting a bat attracting garden.

Welcome bats to your property by providing them a place to roost. Bat houses can be purchased online, at local home and garden centers, or you can build your own. Free plans for a bat house are readily available online. They are simple to construct and can be a fun-filled project for the whole family.

For some reason this makes me smile. Bring on the bats! #bathouse 🦇🦇🦇

A post shared by Robert Lamb (@rlamb007) on

Mount your bat house on a pole or the side of a building, at least 15 feet off the ground. Do not mount the bat house on a tree. Tree mounted bird and bat houses are too accessible to rodents and other predators that can climb trees. Bats need room to fall from the roost to gain flight, so make sure the house is mounted in a location that provides enough space for free-fall without being nabbed by the family cat or other predators.

Bats prefer small, tight places, so keep your bat house small and mount it in a location protected from the wind. Bats like warm temperatures between 85-to-100 degrees Fahrenheit.

You will know you have managed to attract bats to your homestead when you notice an accumulation of bat droppings (bat guano) on the ground beneath the bat house.

References

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Author: Marlene Affeld

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