In today’s Did You Know? post, I wanted to give you a little more information on bats and make sure that you know just how awesome they are in the garden. In the Mid-Atlantic region, bats are pretty much divided into two types: tree dwellers and cave dwellers. Wherever they reside, they do a fantastic job at scoffing up insects at night. My favorite food for them to devour is mosquitoes; an average bat can consume up to 3000 insects each night; a nursing little brown bat mother can eat up to 4500 insects in an evening. That’s insect control that is virtually impossible to replicate without heavy insecticide use.
Bats aren’t the fastest mammals when it comes to procreating. Each tree bat will give birth to two pups (as the babies are known) each year while cave bats only have one pup each year. That means that we need to make sure that we aren’t destroying their habitat. And with the horrific white nose fungus plaguing and killing up to 93% of the bats in one Virginia cave, we need to ensure that we as gardeners do what we can to preserve this flying mammal (it’s the only flying mammal by the way). Another way to ensure their longevity is to build bat houses. They are very simple boxes that invite the bats for a stay; the bats may use these houses to roost, hibernate or even raise their young. There are lots of free plans for bat houses on the internet; just Google “bat house plans” and you’ll receive links for single bat houses all the way up to mini-bat condos. Many people are horrified to think of having bats living in their yard…I think it would be worse to spray insecticides in the yard to try to keep the mosquito population down. Others may believe that bats are prone to having rabies, but the Virginia Department of Health’s statistics show that raccoons, skunks, foxes and feral cats are more likely to carry the virus. Click here for the data.
Some of the insects that bats enjoy eating are mosquitoes, leafhoppers, June bugs, Japanese beetles and stink bugs. With the invasion of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug in northern Virginia and Maryland in the past few years, perhaps a few more bat houses are in order instead of chemical applications. As is true in any ecosystem, there are predators and prey and which is which depends strictly on your perspective. To the bat, the insects are the prey whereas to the plants, the insects are the predator. It is our job as land stewards to be sure that we recognize the role of all of these integral parts of the biological system and encourage the ones that benefit us. With that being said, we cannot annhilate the pests without having a direct negative effect on the predators. Keep that in mind the next time you reach for the Sevin dust or imidacloprid…your efforts to kill the insects that are aggravating your crops can be felt all the way up the food chain. Sorry to go off on a tangent…the more you read my posts, the more you’ll discover this is a habit of mine. Let me know what you’ve done to encourage bats in your landscape by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at email@example.com. Happy gardening!