Bats make great gardening buddies. Learn more about these all-natural pest controllers.
"The mere mention of the word bat can conjure up visions of blood-sucking, rabies-infested creatures from horror movies. But the truth is," says master gardener Paul James, " bats are actually great gardening buddies."
"Only vampire bats feed on the blood of animals, " James continues, "and they don’t live anywhere in North America."
All the bats that call North America home are all-natural pest contollers. Just one bat is capable of consuming more than 500 night-flying insects in a single hour! These ravenous little pest controllers love nothing more than munching mosquitoes, but they also devour leafhoppers, cucumber beetles, flies and moths.
And as an added bonus, bats provide nutrient rich fertilizer in the form of bat guano, a prized fertilizer with high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, two of plant’s favorite nutrients.
Bat expert Dharma Weber debunks the myths that surround these furry flying gardening friends. "We have 45 species of bats in North America. Forty two of them eat insects, " says Dharma. " The last three are nectar and pollen feeders."
One myth is that bats are flying rodents. "Actually bats are not related to rodents at all," says Dharma. "They are in a class of their own called Chiropteran, which means 'hand wing.' " That’s because the parts on the wing that look like sticks of a kite are actually fingers!
What about the concern that bats spread rabies? "Bats do not get rabies any more than other mammals," Dharma explains. And what about the expression "blind as a bat"? That’s a myth too. Bats use their sight as well as a chirping sound and other inaudible sonic sounds known as echo location to find insects.
So what do bats eat? It depends on the subspecies of bat. The Pacific Pallet bat, for instance, found along the coast in northern California, delights in centipedes and scorpions, but it also relishes meal worms. Mexican free tail bats are specially equipped with long, slender wings for feeding at high altitudes in warmer parts of the U.S.
So how do you attract bats? Build a bat house!
Build Your Own Bat House
You can purchase kits made from cedar, but you can also make a bat house from any type of wood that is not toxic to bats. Do not use pressure treated wood, but most anything else works fine.
The kit shown here is tongue and groove, so assembly is easy (figure A).
When making your bat house, use screening or something similar for the bats to land on and travel up inside your bat house (figure B). (Do not use fish netting; that could snag on a bat’s wings.) Be sure to completely drive in any extruding staples or nails that could injure the bats.
After assembling the house and screen, put the sides on and secure it with a few screws. The front portions slide in and you’re ready to go. A bat house should have about 3/4 of an inch of space in the chamber. Bats like it cozy (figure C). Apply a couple of coats of latex paint to your bat house and you’re ready for occupants.
Your bat house should face southeast where it gets the most morning sunlight. Bats like between four and seven hours of direct sunlight per day. You can hang it in an open area on a barn, other outbuilding, or mount it on a pole.
Once you have occupants, start collecting your free guano fertilizer on plastic sheeting from beneath your bat house. Take one tablespoon guano and mix it with a gallon of water and let it sit overnight. The next day just give it a shake and voila — free fertilizer.
So now you know that having "bats in your belfry" is really a great thing! Just be sure and welcome them safely into your landscape by omitting the use of pesticides in your garden, as they can cause serious health issues for your bug-loving bat buddies.