The Importance of Bats

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Set aside the spooky Halloween tales. In reality, bats serve as important pollinators of many food plants and provide useful aids for medical research, particularly for the blind, who like bats, can learn to navigate using echolocation.

North Carolina supports 17 species of bats, including four federally listed as threatened or endangered.

Another great service we benefit from these misunderstood creatures is how effective hunters they are against pests, sometimes flying in from dozens of miles away and able to dive up to 60 mph to capture their prey. They are the only major predator of night-flying insects, acting as a valuable natural pest control resource, benefitting both homeowner gardens and commercial agriculture. It is estimated that the value of bats as pest control is worth over $3.5 billion to US agriculture . Bat prey includes lacewings, cockroaches, gnats, beetles, moths, and mosquitos. A single Big Brown Bat can eat between 3,000 and 7,000 mosquitos in a night, with large populations of bats consuming thousands of tons of potentially harmful forest and agricultural pests annually.

Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight. Their wings are like hands with skin stretched between modified finger bones. They are not blind, but rely on echolocation instead of their eyes for locating and capturing food at night. Bats are more closely related to primates than the rodents with which they are often compared. They have slow reproductive rates with typically only one offspring per cycle. Like all other mammals, female bats nurse their young.

Providing both foraging areas and roosting locations is essential. Permanent wet areas are critical for bats because they supply water and a consistent insect supply. Bats spend over half of their lives in roosts and rely on sheltered, undisturbed sites such as caves, crevices in rocks, and tree cavities to meet their needs. In the winter months, insulated roosts are important for hibernating bats, while in late spring and early summer, roosts that can sustain daytime temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit are important for raising young bats. Bats are somewhat opportunistic in their roost selection and often use man-made structures such as attics, abandoned houses, bridges, and barns where natural roosts are unavailable. Consider installing artificial roosts in spaces where natural roosts are scarce or absent to encourage bats to hunt insect pests in your area. For more information on bats and how to provide the habitat they need including tips to build effective, maintenance-free bat houses for roosting and raising young, contact your local N.C. Cooperative Extension office.

Bats are a beneficial and important part of our environment and the protection of our crops. While we’re generally wary of things that go bump in the night, the echolocation clicks of our own private army flying out on patrol should be music to our ears.

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.