How to Attract Bats to Keep Bugs Under Control in Your Yard
These insect-eating creatures love to gobble up garden pests and other annoying insects. Here's how to put them to work for you.
Bats get a lot of undeserved bad press. Books and movies about vampires abound. But of the approximately 1,400 bat species worldwide, only three consume blood (mostly from livestock or birds) and they live in the tropics of Central and South America. While bats may not be the most glamorous creatures, they're actually superheroes when it comes to battling insect pests. This is good news for your garden, where plant-eating beetles, moths, hornworms, grasshoppers, and stinkbugs are among bats’ favorite meals. These nocturnal winged mammals also can help curb mosquito populations. Here's how you can put bats to work in your own yard.
Why Bats Are Beneficial
First of all, insect-eating bats have huge appetites. Some bats, especially pregnant females or nursing mothers, may consume close to their body weight in bugs each night. According to Bat Conservation International (BCI), insect-eating bats may save U.S. farmers about $23 billion each year by preventing crop damage and reducing the need for pesticides. To home gardeners, they offer an organic solution for controlling insect pests.
Bats are beneficial for other reasons: Some bats are important pollinators. For example, long-nosed bats native to the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico, are the main pollinators of agave plants. Scientists believe that without these bats, agave would eventually disappear. Other bats, mostly in the tropics, are important for spreading seeds, which helps replenish rain forests. And bat guano (droppings) is a highly prized fertilizer.
How to Attract Bats
By making your yard bat friendly, you’re helping the environment on a grander scale. For a number of reasons, including the use of pesticides and loss of habitat, bat populations are declining. More than half of the 40 species native to the U.S. are in severe decline or listed as endangered. Providing safe environments for bats to roost and raise their young helps slow this decline.
To encourage bats to hang out in your yard, just keep in mind what they need to thrive: food, water, and shelter. Because insects make up the bulk of their diet, plant herbs and flowers that attract night-flying insects and avoid using insecticides. A source of water is very important. Bats will swoop from the sky to capture a sip while in flight, so be sure there’s an unobstructed “swoop zone” around ponds or birdbaths. Tree cavities and the narrow spaces between bark and wood are preferred roosting sites for more than half the bats native to the U.S. So if you have a dead, hollow tree in your yard, and it doesn’t pose a hazard, consider it habitat and leave it standing.
Install a Bat House
No dead tree in your yard? A bat house is a simple alternative. It will provide shelter for bats to roost and raise their young. These can be purchased or you can build one using plans from BCI. Locate your bat house on a building or pole in a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun each day so it will absorb lots of heat. (Painting the box a dark color is helpful.) Tree mounting is usually a bad idea for several reasons: it’s too shady, the branches obstruct the bats’ flight, and it’s easier for predators to reach them. Mount the house 12-20 feet off the ground with 10-14 feet of clear space between vegetation and the bat house because when bats emerge, they drop a few feet before flying upward.
No, bats won't fly into your hair and they don't want to bite you. While bats can get rabies like most other mammals, they’re not as likely to catch it as many other animals. Even if they do, you’re less likely to come in contact with them. That said, never handle a bat or any other wild animal in your yard (if you do, it's strongly recommended that you get a precautionary rabies shot immediately). And as for bats trying to roost in your attic, they may enter a building through existing holes or crevices, but they don’t chew their way in.
So don’t be afraid of these gentle, helpful critters. Instead, welcome bats to your yard, and they will provide a natural, organic defense against many of the insect pests that plague your garden.