Never has there been an animal so misunderstood or maligned as the bat. Their unusual appearances, abilities, appetites and behaviors have baffled and struck fear in the hearts of many humans who have had any contact with them. Most of what people hear from others (who have not studied bats) is based on oft-repeated myths and misinformation.
Because bats are nocturnal, secretive and fly erratically, they are feared, mercilessly persecuted and are needlessly destroyed. Myths surrounding this creature of the night evoke a sense of hysteria within the general public, but this can be battled with a better understanding and knowledge of bats. Bats seldom transmit diseases, including rabies. While handling bats is something best left to the experts, far many more people contract rabies from infected dogs, foxes, coyotes, badgers, skunks, bobcats, and other mammals and rodents than from bats. In fact, only 10 people in the United States contracted rabies from contact with bats in the more than 30 years from 1946 to 1982. Yet millions of bats are killed when people carelessly explore or seal off caves, spray insecticides, or destroy colonies established in large buildings, freeway overpasses and bridges, and outdoor stadiums.
Yet, for all the good bats do, they are persistently killed due to myths, superstition, fear, and (in Tucson and elsewhere) people with BB and pellet guns. The life expectancy of a single bat may exceed 20 years, but slow birth rates limit their populations’ growth. When just 5 bats are needlessly killed, a potential 100 years of animal life is destroyed. A growing number of bats species, 60% worldwide, are either endangered, threatened, or are candidates for species-protection listing. Bats can be considered in their 11th hour and any efforts we can provide for them will hopefully help their conservation status. Please share this information with anyone you may know who will appreciate it and, like yourself, do something real to help bats.
Bats are among the most beautiful and beneficial animals on earth. They are clean, gentle and intelligent. They are not blind, do not become entangled in hair, and are not rodents. Bats are of the mammalian order Chiroptera, meaning hand-wing.
Bats are the only major predators of night flying insects and some bats can eat several thousand insects in a single night. Insect eating bats are literal vacuum cleaners of the night skies, eating millions upon millions of harmful bugs. They protect us by eating insects that destroy crops as well as insects that cause human disease.
Image by Doris Evans at Campbell/ Rillito Bridge on Sept 12. The main flight was between 6:10 and 6:15pm
Bats are vital for healthy ecosystems and enhance our lives in many ways. Fruit and nectar feeding bats bring us approximately 450 commercial products and 80 different medicines through seed dispersal and pollination. Up to 98% of all rainforest re-growth comes from seeds that have been spread by fruit bats. Our three species of nectar bats, the Mexican Long-nosed Bat, Lesser Long-nosed Bat and the Mexican Long-tongued Bat, are critically important to our environment as they are the important pollinators or propagators of several plants that are symbolic of and essential to the overall good health of the Sonoran desert: saguaros, ocotillos, and especially the agave family of plants.
Fruit eating bats are our most important seed-dispersing mammals. Nectar eating bats pollinate more than 130 kinds of trees, shrubs, cactus and succulents. In the tropical rainforests, bats play a very large role in pollination and seed dispersal of many exotic plants. Additionally, bat pollination plays a major role in commercial crops such as peaches, avocados, bananas, cashews, dates, agaves, and many other plant foods we human depend upon. Bat guano (excrement) is considered an excellent fertilizer and is used for nearly one third of the world’s supply of black and white pepper.
Many species of bats have become endangered due to loss of traditional habitats. Specialized lifestyles and unusually slow reproductive rates (usually only one young per year) make adapting to changes in habitat extremely difficult. Because bats create the largest colonies of any warm-blooded animals, any change makes their species very vulnerable. As humans continue to alter the environment, providing man-made roosts (bat houses) for bats becomes increasingly important for the bats’ continued survival.
When you purchase or receive a Wild Bird Store bat house, you can rest assured that you have a field-tested structure that can and does replicate natural conditions and preferred sites such as trees, caves, and old buildings. The lumber used is the highest quality cedars available. The lumber has not been treated with any wood preservatives or chemicals, which would be repugnant to the bats. The roughness of the wood and the slotted textured grooves which allow bats to cling easily are important features of the bat house. They move up or down in the box to find roosting temperatures to their liking. Never paint or varnish bat houses or birdhouses. A more weathered and natural-looking house will be most appreciated by the occupants.
Bat houses can be affixed to trees, tall posts, or the sides of buildings or chimneys. In our climate and region it is best to install the bat house 12’ to 15’ above ground level, although they can be as high as 30 feet. 8 to 12 feet will work for a few species, but the higher the house the better it is for the majority of species. Unlike birdhouses, which require an annual clean-out, bat houses require no maintenance after installation.
Considering that adult males live separately in “bachelor” colonies and females with juveniles living in “nursing” colonies separate from the adult males during the long Arizona breeding season, it is wiser to hang two bat houses close together if they are single chambered. Bats will always prefer a larger house to a smaller house. Install bat houses so that the front of the box faces north, northeast or east, in that order of preference. Houses facing south and west run the risk of getting too hot during our summer months if placed in full time sun during our hot afternoons. A well shaded house can be installed facing in almost any direction.
Bats shift, as a group, up and down in the house to adjust their temperatures. They’ll move up to be warmer and down to be cooler. This is described as thermoregulation. Depending upon species, mother bats normally prefer temperatures in the 80-120 degree range. Nursing colonies may include 30 or more individuals in single chamber bat house. Bachelor groups tend to be smaller, sometimes consisting of as few as half a dozen or so adult males. Nursing females prefer somewhat warmer locations than males.
Locations that offer stable daytime temperatures are always preferred. So, in Southern Arizona – where we can experience day and night temperature swings of up to 40 degrees, locate your bat house in a place that has as much full shade as possible during summer months to provide the roosting bats with as uniform temperatures as is possible. In the urban environment of Tucson proper, installing your bat house in a less sunny location and on the least windy side of your house would probably provide the ideal location for installing a bat house on the exterior of your house. Choosing such a location helps ensure temperature stability. It is most important to avoid placing bat houses in particularly windy spots. Ideal roosting sites are rare and bats are clever enough and adaptable enough to locate and try any possible roosting site. Some bats occupy a house within a few weeks, some take a year, or two, or possibly longer. When providing for bats, patience is the number one rule. Do not be discouraged if yours is not occupied quickly.
Most bats in the United States eat flying insects, so locate yours where food supplies are adequate. It should be located near a permanent supply of water (within a half mile is ideal) such as a lake, pond, marsh, or stream where insect populations are high. In Tucson, and Southern Arizona generally, where natural water sources are scarce or seasonal, folks who have swimming pools, bird or fish ponds, fountains or birdbaths usually notice that’s all the water necessary in the desert to attract bats. I’ve always enjoyed standing in our pool, at dusk, being perfectly still, with the water level up to my chin and observing very close-up the bats coming in to both skim insects off the surface of the water and drinking. I also greatly enjoy sitting close to my oriole nectar feeder (excellent for feeding nectar eating bats!) and experiencing those bats at very close range, especially from mid/late summer into the late fall months. (While the nectar eating species may be present almost anytime during our year, they are here in their greatest numbers from late July to late October/early November).
In Europe, bat houses have been successfully used for well over 70 years. There they are most often fastened to sides of buildings, spaced apart for males and females. Europeans very often hang four bat houses in a tree, each facing a different direction, to encourage bats to more readily occupy them. While bat houses are a relatively recent phenomenon in this country, they are becoming more widely available and popular as people discover the many advantages that housing bats offers and also realize that much of the myth and folklore of bats are fiction. Bats are of great importance to the environments that they occupy and this fact cannot be understated. Within the past decade or so, bat houses in the US have proved themselves instrumental in bat conservation efforts.
While bat houses have been made from a wide variety of materials, The Wild Bird Store offers bat houses in a variety of sizes and styles - all are made of cedar. Cedar is the perfect wood to use as it has many features and qualities that offer what most other woods don’t. Cedar is one of the few woods that most wood boring insects will avoid – cedar oils are like natural insecticides! It is very weather-proof (water-proof) and offers a higher level of temperature control than many other woods. It’s very durable and long-lasting, resisting both moisture and dry rot (important in the desert). Above all, the houses we sell are practical and functional. They are all created from approved designs that have proven to be the most successful in attracting bats to roost in them. Our bat houses have about an 80% chance of occupancy when installed properly. They are designed for ease of use, and fit the needs and purposes of bats best.
Bat houses can provide homes for any number of bats. Multi-chambered houses should be considered superior to single chambered houses – unless multiple single-chambered houses are hung in pairs or groups. The smallest bat house can accommodate approximately 30 to 35 bats depending upon species and size. The largest house we stock has five chambers and can accommodate up to 600 bats, more or less. However, keep in mind that not every species of bat will take up in a bat house. Some bat species have very particular roosting requirement and, for those bats, certain trees and caves/mining shafts/tunnels are exclusively used.
Southern Arizona is home to 28 bat species, more than most other regions of the country. This is in part due to our close association and proximity to Mexico. Some Mexican species, particularly the nectivores, extend the northernmost parts of their range into Southern Arizona and thereby add to the number of species we have here. Conservation minded folks who put up bat houses are not only helping out the bats, but are creating valuable opportunities to educate others of the benefits of these unique and special flying mammals.
While Southern Arizona and Southwest New Mexico have many species of bats, not all species occupy houses. Some species, such as the Red Bat, are common tree-dwellers. Other species, include the three Mexican species of nectar-eating bats:
These bats frequent caves and mine tunnels and shafts. Most of the insectivore species we have in our region will occupy bat houses. These are the same species that inhabit attics in homes and crevices in other buildings.
Bat species that may occupy bat houses in Southern Arizona include, but are not limited to: all bats of the genus Myotis such as the:
It should be noted that fossil records prove that Vampire Bats (there are three species) existed here in the American Southwest. Prehistoric climate changes eliminated them from the region now known as the United States. They do, however, exist in significant numbers in Mexico and many Latin American countries. Vampire bats can be found as close as a few hundred miles of the American/Mexican border. They rarely suck blood from humans and are more attracted to cattle and dogs for their blood meal.
MEXICAN NECTAR EATING BATS
Special mention should be made about our three Mexican species of nectar-eating bats. These three species are seriously imperiled. One species is facing possible extinction in the near future and is therefore classified as critically endangered and the other two are considered threatened. Numbers for all three species have been in a rapid decline in recent years, due to a number of factors. The dominant reasons for declining numbers are due to habitat fragmentation and total habitat loss. Urban sprawl, industrial row farming and the spread of cattle grazing into previously pristine desert areas in the northern states of Mexico are some of the important reasons for declining habitat and the resulting significant population declines.
If you are interested in learning more about bats, we stock a publication:
Bat conservation organizations play an important role in the education of the general public, governmental agencies, and private corporations. These organizations present educational programs, offer adopt-a-bat projects, and provide opportunities to get involved with current bat research. Many research projects center on the ever-growing number of threatened or endangered bats. Results from such projects encourage local governments to take action to save their declining bat populations. If you would like to help bat conservation (beyond installing a bat house or two), here are several well respected national organizations that have memberships, publish quarterly journals, sponsor various bat projects for communities, and generally educate the public in a variety of ways to the importance of maintaining healthy bat populations:
If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
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