Common Myths, Fun Bat Facts, and How to Attract Bats to your Yard
I was recently talking to someone and mentioned that I was hoping to attract more bats to my yard. She was absolutely horrified, concerned that I would end up being exposed to rabies.
I thought most of the myths surrounding bats had been dispelled at this point, but I guess I was wrong, so I thought we’d talk about a couple of the most common myths and a few cool facts about bats.
Once you see how interesting and beneficial they are, I’ll explain how you can attract and support bats and get more to come to your yard!
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Myth #1: Bats often Carry Rabies
It is true that bats can carry rabies, as can all mammals. However, you should know there are 2 phases of rabies infection, the second of which is the more dangerous. This is the one you’re probably most familiar with from sensationalized news headlines or movies. You know, where the animal is foaming at the mouth and attacking everything it sees (like Cujo).
However, bats never exhibit this phase. They remain in the first phase, which is what’s called the “dumb” phase, where they’re uncoordinated and sleepy. Therefore, you almost have to try to get infected as the bat IS NOT going to attack you.
Obviously, you shouldn’t EVER handle a wild bat without thick gloves, as even a perfectly healthy bat can bite if it feels threatened. And wouldn’t you feel threatened if you were in a strange place (like a house) and a giant monster (that would be you, the human) came at you and grabbed you?
Just to give you an idea of the scope of the bat rabies “problem”, between 1980 and 1996, there were 36 people infected with rabies. Twenty-one of these infections were attributed to bats. If you do the math, that’s 1.3 cases of rabies per year from bats in the U.S. I got these statistics from the book below, which is a really fun and interesting read.
By contrast, according to this website, between 2005 and 2018, 471 people were killed by dogs (not wild, domestic!) in the US. Lightning strikes account for 51 deaths per year in the US. Pretty sure bats aren’t a big problem….
Myth #2: Bats will Entangle Themselves in your Hair
I always found this one laughable, but I know a lot of people think this is true.
Years ago, we had a bat flying around inside our church sanctuary. You would have thought there was a giant monster in there! I have NEVER seen so many people ducking and shrieking in my life! I was only a kid, but I felt awfully sorry for that poor little bat!
As you may know, bats use echolocation to find their insect prey. This is much like our (more clumsy and not nearly as accurate) radar. As bats can distinguish between a beetle or moth, and can even “see” a gnat with their echolocation abilities, do you really think they’re going to blunder into your hair? Nope, ‘fraid not.
So why do bats sometimes swoop down close to your head if you’re outside in the evening? They’re grabbing the bugs that are homing in on their prey (that’s you!). Next time a bat swoops towards you, thank him for saving you from a nasty bug bite!
Ok, let’s move on to a few cool facts about bats, shall we?
Bats Range in Size from Tiny to Huge!
The smallest bat in the world is the bumblebee bat, which weighs less than 0.04 oz!! Just to give you an idea, a ruby-throated hummingbird weighs 0.11 oz, almost THREE TIMES as much as this teensy little bat! That same hummingbird has a wingspan around 4 inches, while the bat’s wings measure about 5 inches across.
I imagine it might be tough to tell them apart if they lived in the same location. However, hummingbirds live only in the New World, bumblebee bats only in Thailand.
By contrast, the largest bat in the world is the flying fox. This guy weighs over 3 lbs and has a wingspan of 6 feet! Now that’s a lotta bat!
They’re really cute, though, and it’s said that residents of areas with the larger bats are much less afraid of them because they’re so visible and common (flying foxes are out more during the day than our bats here in the US, as well).
Two common bats in the US are the big brown bat and the little brown bat (someone must not have been feeling very creative when they came up with those names!). They’re both quite small, with the big brown bat weighing only 1/2 ounce, and the little brown bat weighing 1/4 to 1/3 ounce.
These bats look much bigger than they are, though, because of their extraordinarily large wing surface. A big brown bat has a wingspan of 13 inches, while a little brown bat’s wings measure 8 to 11 inches. That’s a lot of wing for such a tiny critter! I guess that explains why they’re such extraordinary flyers!
Many Bats LOOOOVE Mosquitoes and Other Pesky Insects
Did you know that both little and big brown bats can eat a couple thousand insects a night…..EACH??!! Yup, they’re voracious insect predators. I can’t even imagine how many mosquitoes there would be if it weren’t for bats! Actually, I don’t want to!
They’ll also eat corn borers, potato beetles and grasshoppers. Some insects can even be repelled from agricultural fields by recordings of the ultrasonic noise bats make, because they’ll avoid areas where bats are present. Pretty cool, huh?
Pallid bats in the US Southwest and up through California and Oregon are known to eat scorpions, grasshoppers and other ground-dwelling insects. Their hearing is so sensitive they can hear a scorpion’s footsteps! (and we think we’re the superior species!)
Even the fruit-eating bats of the Old World are beneficial. They eat the fruit, then poop out the seeds, making them extraordinarily efficient pollinators.
So, now that I’ve shown you how wonderful, interesting and beneficial bats are, how can you attract them to your yard?
Attracting Bats is Simple: Put up Bat Houses
The simplest way to attract bats to your yard is to give them somewhere to live. Putting up a bat house (or several!) will likely attract multiple bats to your yard and garden.
Although I’m an avowed DIY’er, making a bat house seems a bit complex, from what I’ve read. If you’d like to make one, your best course of action is to research which species of bats are likely to be in your area, then find plans for that specific species.
You see, each species has its own roosting requirements and preferences, so building a house specifically for your prevalent species makes sense.
If you have a knack for DIY and are interested in building your own bat house, there are a variety of free plans available online to fit any size yard. To learn more about bat house plans and details to consider, check out this article.
If you’d rather buy a ready-made one, or a kit, there are many available. This page on Amazon has dozens of bat houses available. They also sell attractants to bring bats to your bat house, but I don’t have any experience with these, so don’t know if they work.
Another consideration is where you’ll hang your bat house. This PDF from Bat Conservation International has great information about where and how to install your house.
I’ve also read in the past that it can take a year or two for your house to be occupied, so don’t give up too soon!
No Pesticides or Mosquito Zappers!
I think it probably goes without saying that you shouldn’t use pesticides if you’re trying to attract any creatures to your yard. This holds true for bats too.
For one, you want the bugs around to attract the bats. Second, bats are so small that ingesting bugs contaminated with pesticides could certainly hurt or kill them.
Bug zappers are a big no-no. Of course, they may kill many of the bugs your bats need to eat. But, there are other reasons you shouldn’t use them. The vast majority of bugs caught by bug zappers ARE NOT biting bugs like mosquitoes. Instead, many zapped bugs are the beneficial insects and predators you’re trying to attract to your garden!
This article from Iowa State University gives specific statistics related to bug zappers. Suffice to say, bug zappers aren’t a good idea, for bats OR beneficial bugs.
Just say no to bug zappers! (Ooooh, wouldn’t that make a good bumper sticker?)
I’d like to leave you with an idea. On a warm evening, just around dusk, go outside and sit on your patio or stand in your yard and take some time to watch the bats! Their flight is truly fascinating and you’ll gain a new appreciation for these amazing creatures.
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s post. Thanks for reading, and if you have a Natural Pest Control or Beneficials in the Garden board on Pinterest, please pin one of the below images for future reference.
As always, smile and have a crazy organic day!
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