The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Bats Any One?
Carol Cullar, Eagle Pass News Guide, July 25, 2001, © 2001, 2003

I’ve never seen anyone who didn’t scream when they unexpectedly encountered a bat! They’re hairy beasts! They fly in your face! Then there are those far south of here that have fangs and feed on blood! Yeck! There are rumors that bats carry rabies and are simply lurking in the night to attack humans! Not so!

Somehow in all the myth, the facts are completely forgotten. Bats are not a health or safety concern. Bats make up one fourth of the mammals on this planet. Only the smallest percentages have been found to be rabid. There are over 1000 species of bats. They come in many different shapes, sizes, colors, and habitats. Different species of bats eat different foods: insects, fruit, pollen, and small animals are among the dietary preferences of some species. About 70% feed on insects; 20%, on fruit and nectar from blooming plants. Others feed on small animals and fish. There are only three species of bats that feed on the blood of other animals (usually cattle)—the so-called “vampire.” They do not suck blood; they lap it after making a small incision and only need about two tablespoons a night. Vampire bats live far to the south in Central and South America. (These bat facts came from a quick websearch.)

Eagle Pass is fortunate that we are in the migratory path of the Mexican Free-tail bat. One of the largest bat caves on earth is located in Mason County about 200 miles northeast of Maverick. These bats migrate back and forth between the cave and warmer climes in Mexico We’re fortunate because one small gray bat, weighing about an ounce, can eat 600 mosquitoes and small insects an hour.

Rather than spray their pecan orchards with what over the years amounts to tons of insecticides that get into the soil and the water table and kill every insect they touch (including the good guys: ladybugs, lacewings, and preying mantis, to name but a few) some pecan growers are looking toward natural eradication of the casebearer moth that can devastate a pecan crop. And how can they do that? Invite a family or two of bats to take up residence in the orchard, of course!

Just this past week Worick Farms consulted with the Rio Bravo Nature Center on how to build bat houses. Even a small structure 14” x 12” x 6” can house as many as forty bats. Let’s see now: 40 bats at 600 mosquitoes or moths an hour for eight hours every night . . . Well you get the picture! And in a community where mosquitoes DO carry disease, it would behoove us to be kinder to bats!

Bat house construction is extremely easy and economical. A rectangular box with a small bottom entry slot about ¾” in width and running the width of the box is ideal. The interior of the box should be routed with shallow horizontal grooves (for toe holds) every 3”. The roof can have a simple slant with a slight overhang for shade and four, tiny ¼” air holes drilled in the walls right below the roof. Seal all the seams and that’s it! You have a bat house!

Now there are some tricks to use to actually get the bats interested: 1) the box has to be in the shade in this part of the country. 2) The bottom of the bat house, where the narrow door is, needs to be at least 13 feet off the ground. 3) In this climate and with our heat, the box needs to be painted white to control the interior temperature. (This could be why your commercially purchased bat house never worked in this part of the country! Bats like it warm, but are driven off by temperatures over 98 degrees.)

How do you roll out the red carpet for your new tenants when the house is finished? You’ll have your best luck if you set up your house about six to ten feet away from where you have already seen bats—on a pole or tree or under the eaves.

Want to get them out of your walls without filling the walls with poison? All you have to do is sit out one evening armed with a caulking gun and wait for them to exit the walls or eaves, then an hour after they have departed for their night of hunting, simply caulk the seams between roof and walls. Any space wider than ¾” is an open door for a bat! Fill the gaps and your home is free of bats in the walls, but remember those little furry guys are working hard all night to rid our community of mosquitoes, so have a new bat house waiting for them when they return!


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