Bats  by Ben Hanson, NM Game and Fish

The day has been hot, but as the sun begins setting, temperatures begin to cool. Soft evening breezes add to the invitation to sit on the back porch and enjoy the evening. Unfortunately, cooler temperatures are also the signal for bugs to come out for their nightly jaunt. The ritual begins as the first mosquito or fly lands on the arm and is soundly slapped. Then the can of bug spray comes out and the bug zapper is turned on. Wouldn't the evening be much nicer without this nightly ritual? There may be a very inexpensive way to control insects and at the same time help out one of the most misunderstood critters-BATS.

Most bats in the United States feed on night-flying insects. They provide nature's way of controlling these bugs since they are the only major predator to fill this role. While birds, such as swallows or martins, play a major role in keeping day-flying insects in check, bats are the important night time hunters. They must eat at least half of their body weight in insects each night in order to survive, and that's a lot of bugs. It has been estimated that one colony of 20 million free-tailed bats in Texas, consumes more than 250,000 pounds of insects nightly. Even a small number of bats makes a real dent in insect numbers, 30 little brown bats easily could catch 30,000 insects in an evenings feeding. That beats any bug zapper I've ever seen!

Bathouse_WEB.jpg (15841 bytes)Of course, there are a lot of people that think bats are just vermin with wings. They carry rabies, get tangled in women's hair and eat holes in the house trim. Like all mammals, bats can get rabies, but it is very rare. Less than half of one percent of bats get rabies and these rarely become aggressive. They quickly die so outbreaks in a bat colony are almost nonexistent. In the last four decades, only 10 people are believed to have died by contracting rabies from bats. Even though the possibility of rabies in bats is remote the best rule to follow is to assume that any bat which permits itself to be picked up is sick, so don't handle it.

Bats have an echolocation system that they use to locate prey and avoid obstacles. It is similar to sonar used to locate submarines, but far more sophisticated. A bat's echolocation system is so precise that a bat can track and catch an insect as small and maneuverable as a gnat on the darkest of nights. They can also locate and avoid the smallest of objects, so getting tangled in a ladies hair is almost unimaginable.

Bats are built to catch and eat insects, therefore they are unable to gnaw holes through wood. They will not create holes, but use openings that are already there. They also won't pose a health risk by getting into human type food like rats and mice do. They will only enter an occupied home inadvertently.

People also bring up questions about bat droppings posing a health risk. Bat guano is no more a health hazard than bird droppings, but it is not a good idea to stir up and breath dust from any animal feces. The best way to control bat guano is to stick a piece of plastic under roost sites and carry it away.

Of course, you can't go to the local pet store and buy bats, so how do you get a colony of these mosquito eaters? The best way is by offering them free lodging. Set up a bat apartment near your home. They are very inexpensive and easy to build. For an "Official Bat-House Builder's Guide" write to: Bat Conservation International, P.O. Box 162603, Austin, TX 78716. There are also several types of bat houses that can be purchased over the Internet. Just go to the search engine and type in bat houses. They can run in price from $35 to $100. This way, maybe next summer and for many years after, you can enjoy evenings on your porch without swatting mosquitoes.