The idea of bats in someone’s backyard is often met with fear and hatred. This isn’t surprising since bats in popular culture are usually associated with vampires and rabies. As with most misconceptions about the natural world, the fear of blood-sucking or diseased bats is not based on scientific evidence. According to Bat Conservation International (BCI), only three out of more than 1,100 species of bats worldwide feed on blood, and they are all in Latin America. These vampire bats do not suck the blood of animals, but rather bite the animals and then lick the blood. Each bat only consumes about 2 tablespoons of blood per feeding. Yes, the image is still far from appealing, but it is not an issue in the United States. As for spreading rabies, BCI states that fewer than half of one percent of bats contract rabies, and rabid bats usually are not aggressive.
Contrary to people’s misconceptions, bats actually are quite beneficial to humans. A single insectivorous bat can eat hundreds of insects an hour, including mosquitoes and agricultural pests. Therefore bats reduce our dependence on pesticides. Frugivorous bats in the tropics are vital in seed dispersal and nectivorous bats pollinate plants when they feed on nectar. But if we’re not careful, we’ll lose these benefits as pesticides, loss or disruption of cave habitat, and extermination continue to threaten bats.
One way to help conserve bats is by installing bat houses on your house, barn, shed or on a pole. The bat house provides roosting habitat for these valuable creatures, and the bats help control the insect populations around your house. Bat Conservation International provides thorough plans and instructions for installing a purchased or home-made bat house. The organization also provides information about excluding bats from your house. They reassure people that installing a bat house will not result in more bats in your house, since the bats would already inhabit your house if the site were suitable. You can help with bat research when you install a bat house by submitting data reports to Bat Conservation International about your bat house design, placement and use by bats. The information is used to better determine the ideal bat house for different species.
For more information, visit these Bat Conservation International pages:
Source: Tuttle, Merlin D. America’s Neighborhood Bats. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997. Check out the 2005 edition.
Photo credit: U.S Fish and Wildlife Service