Bats haven’t always enjoyed the best reputation; we often think of them as scary, creepy, ugly, rabid and blind. But bats feed on nectar and are excellent pollinators, like birds, bees and butterflies.
Contrary to prevailing myths, bats don’t get tangled in our hair or suck our blood, they keep themselves fastidiously clean, and many species aren’t blind. The stereotypes about bats obscure the helpful creatures they really are.
In fact, bats are extremely important to ecosystems all over the world. In addition to pollinating dozens of species, including 300 types of fruits and vegetables, bats eat insects that can be dangerous to humans and that kill vegetation and crops. They are voracious consumers of mosquitoes; in one hour, a bat can eat over 1,000 mosquitoes, including those that carry Zika and West Nile viruses, as well as destructive moths, beetles and other pests.
And because bats eat insects that feed on crops, farmers can use fewer pesticides and other chemicals. Recent studies show that bats save U.S. agriculture $3.7 billion a year in pest control.
Bats help advance medical science by pollinating more than 80 plants that are used for medicinal purposes. Bat droppings (guano) are used to make nutrient-rich fertilizers.
There are over 1,400 species of bats worldwide. Long Island is home to several including little brown, big brown, eastern red and tri-colored northern long-eared. In the summer, they live in woods and in wetlands, and in the winter, they hibernate in dead trees, dried leaves or caves.
But bats are endangered and need help. Unfortunately, we have no control over the biggest bat killer: white nose syndrome, an illness that attacks while they hibernate and has killed millions across the world, as scientists work to find a cure.
However, there are ways individuals can help healthy bats remain that way. First and foremost, reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides will give bats more insects to eat.
Bats also are losing their habitats through construction and land degradation. Since they often live in dead trees, unless it poses a hazard, consider leaving a dead tree on your property. Even better, consider buying a bat house that will provide a disease-free shelter and hibernation protection, as well as a place for bats to raise their “pups” safely.
In return, bats will keep your property free from pest insects, like mosquitoes, moths and beetles. Bat houses are available at local garden centers.
You can learn more about bats and bat houses from Bat Conservation International at batcon.org. BC partners with The Nature Conservancy to maintain the largest bat preserve in the United States.
The Quogue Wildlife Refuge offers bat education programs for school age children.
Be a friend to bats!
Westhampton Garden Club
One fine body…