A bat house... could this be the new insect repellant?
If you're having a problem with insects invading your yard, garden or nursery like most people, you are probably wondering if there is a better way to get rid of them than spending a ton of money on pest control products. Attracting bats to your area (yes, the scary looking flying mammals you see in vampire movies) is a great way to lower the pesky insect population and protect your precious plants.
In this article, I will teach you how to build a bat house to hang on your property that will attract bats and provide you with a low maintenance pest control option. Bat houses are not only good for you and your plants, they are also beneficial to bats and great for the environment.
Bats really are interesting creatures, and are not as scary as most people think. Small bats (technically called microchiroptera) are found in the US, and will become your best insect eating friends if you decide to build a bat house. Nearly all bats found in the United States eat insects, with a few in the Southwestern states that feed on nectar. Bats are mostly nocturnal, or active at night, and they are not blind, as the old saying goes.
Their vision is less important to them than their hearing, though. They use echolocation, or sonar, to “see“ where they are going, and to hunt for insects. They emit loud sounds and listen to the echoes to judge what is around them. Bats have very weak, small hind legs, and this is part of the reason they sleep hanging upside down. Their strange sleeping habits also help them to quickly take off in flight, and to stay hidden from predators while they are resting during the day.
So, maybe you are thinking you do not want to build a bat house because of all the negative things you have heard about bats. Contrary to what many people think, bats are not dirty, and they do not seek out people to bother. If you have ever found a bat living in your attic or shed, they were just looking for somewhere warm and dry to sleep. Bats are afraid of people, and will avoid them at all costs.
They will not harm people, pets or birds, and they do not compete with birds for food. There are plenty of insects to go around and birds are sleeping by the time bats get up to eat. Bats will not fly too low and get stuck in your hair, either. They get around very well using their unique combination of sight and sound, and they would be more scared than you, if you can believe that!
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Being the primary predator of insects, bats can be a great ally to have. One little brown bat can eat 1000 mosquito sized insects in an hour. Pregnant females eat their body weight in insects each night in the summer.
Not only do they eat whatever bugs they can find, but they also scare some of the remaining ones away. Insects can hear bats up to 100 feet away, and they will avoid areas they inhabit. Bats rarely eat any insects that are beneficial to plants; in fact it just so happens that their favorites treats are often the ones that cause the most damage to your plants.
In central Texas, there are millions of bats at Bat Conservation International’s Bracken Cave, and these bats eat 200 tons of insects each night in the summer. This species, the Mexican free-tail bat, prefer to eat corn earworm moths, which are a major cause of damage to commercial crops such as watermelon and artichokes.
Texas farmers save about $1.7 million a year in pesticide costs thanks to the bats, and the environment is spared all of the chemicals that would have been used to get rid of the moths otherwise.
Attracting bats to your garden, nursery or orchard is great for the plants in other ways, as well. During their nightly hunt for food, bats pollinate many plants and spread seeds for others. In other parts of the world, especially the rainforest, they play a very large part in plant pollination. Bat droppings, called guano, are a very valuable, rich fertilizer as well.
The bat population has been severely declining in recent years due to a mysterious disease that has been affecting nearly the entire species. This disease is related to a white fungus that has been found on the noses of dead and dying bats, but it is not known if the fungus is the cause or a symptom.
This fungus seems to irritate them so much that they wake up early from hibernation and use all of their fat stores looking for food in the winter. They then die from starvation and dehydration. Mortality rates as a result of this disease are between 90-95%. Female bats only have one pup a year, so their population is getting dangerously low.
There are many biologists who feel that bats are a very important part of the environment; so much so that many local ecosystems would eventually fail completely without them. This is why it is especially important now to give the bats that are still around a comfortable, safe place to live and reproduce.
Endless research has been done on the topic of bat houses. There have been “bat labs” all across the country for years where scientists and students have experimented with different types of bat houses to see what is the most successful at attracting and keeping bats.
The placement and temperature are the most important factors in whether or not you will attract bats, and if they will stay. Ventilation, surrounding light, shape and type of wood are other things that may affect the success of your bat house.
Installing multiple houses in separate locations to create your own small version of a “bat lab” can help you determine what works, and improve your chances of attracting more bats more quickly.
The placement of your bat house is vital to your success in attracting and keeping bats. Placing the house on a pole or the side of a building such as a house, shed or barn is a better option than hanging it on a tree. It can be hard for bats to find the house on a tree, since the leaves can cover it, and it would make the house more accessible to other animals who occupy trees.
Bats would prefer to live between 10 and 30 yards away from the nearest tree line, so they can easily escape from predators and take cover in the trees. Because of the temperature difference between the north and south, recommended placement for your bat house varies somewhat depending upon where you live.
No matter where the location, the house should face south or south east (135* is ideal). In the south, however, placing 2 houses back to back on a pole with the second one facing north will greatly increase your chances of having bats occupy it long term. Having the opposite facing houses will allow them to choose which one is a more comfortable temperature at any given time.
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Leaving a small ¾ inch space between the houses will allow them to travel back and forth between them without emerging into the daylight too much. Your bat house needs to be placed where it will receive a minimum amount of direct sunlight each day in order for it to be the correct temperature for bats. In the north, 8-12 hours of sunlight is ideal, while 6-7 hours is perfect in the south.
There is a better chance you will attract bats if your bat house is within 1500 ft of a stream or pond. Fresh water is a great benefit, as it guarantees a place for them to drink on hot days and a steady food supply. The bat house needs to be placed at least 15-20 feet off the ground, where lights will not disturb them. If you have the ability to place it higher, that would be even more beneficial to the bats and increase your chances of attracting them.
The temperature of the house is one of the biggest reasons bats may not stay in your bat house. Besides placing the house where it will receive enough sunlight, you also need to be sure that it is painted the correct shade for your location. Painting your bat house a dark or light color, depending on whether you want to absorb or reflect heat, will help keep it temperate.
If you live in an area where the high temperature in July is less than 85*, you will want to paint your house black with a black roof. For an average temperature between 85 and 95, a medium brown to dark brown house with a black roof is ideal. Temperatures between 95 and 100 call for a light to medium brown shade of paint with a white roof, and temperatures above 100 mean a light brown to white shade of paint with a white roof would be best.
Remember to use a non-toxic paint for the outside of the bat house, and never to paint the inside. A full or partial tin roof can help to protect the bats from rain, and can deflect heat as well. Caulking the house is important, too; bat houses that are painted and caulked are much more likely to be lived in than those that are not. There should be a ventilation opening halfway down - ¾ inch to 1 inch tall, and all along the length of the house.
Optionally, installing a ceiling and floor, with a few inches of empty space above and below them will help create a temperature variation which will help keep the house comfortable.
Bats are fairly picky, and prefer certain types of houses over others. Longer, wider bat houses do a much better job of inviting bats in than square or other shaped versions. There should be horizontal grooves along the inside of the bat house, every ¼ in or so, or plastic mesh should line the front and back interior so the bats have something to grasp onto. The bottom opening of the house should be ¾ in to 1 in wide, so it is large enough for bats to pass in and out, but too small for their predators to get in.
Pine for the exterior and plywood for the interior are ideal materials to use to build a bat house. Cedar has a strong odor that may deter bats until it fades, so it is not a good choice. Some bat houses are built to have multiple chambers, and can be combined with others to build entire bat colonies. For the purpose of this article and video, however, we will be focusing on the single bat house.
Mounting your bat house in the spring will generally encourage a faster occupancy rate, but any time throughout the year is fine. It is not abnormal for it to take 2 whole years for your house to see its first tenants. Because of this, you do not want to disturb the house at all for a long time after placement, or any bats that have been investigating may abandon it.
A couple years after you first notice the house has bats living in it, you will be able to take it down and repair, repaint and/or relocate it if you want. You do not want to move it too far, but the bats will follow it a short distance away and move back in. If you want to make repairs to the bat house, you should wait until the bats have migrated or found somewhere to hibernate for the winter, then take it down.
To see if any bats are living in your bat house, you should look for guano (bat droppings) under and around the house. You can also shine a flashlight into the bottom of the house to see if there are bats inside, but you should only do this once a week or you will scare any inhabitants away.
Bat houses on your property are a great alternative to expensive, harmful chemicals when it comes to pest control. Not only will bats get rid of pesky insects and pollinate your plants, but you will be giving them a safe place to live and helping them to rebuild their species that has recently been devastated.