Back to Nature (Published on - April 5, 2007)
Bats in the belfry
The beneficial Gray Bat is listed on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species list.
Whether it’s raining out, uncomfortably chilly, or hot and humid (unless of course it’s sweltering), I prefer the windows open to the great out of doors. The sound of the birds chirping and singing, the wind rustling the leaves, the rain drops falling, even the traffic noise way off in the distance; all these sounds come together creating an open-air symphony.

Skyscraper office buildings with permanently sealed windows, elevators ascending to closed-in, filtered-air cubicles are nothing more than jail cells for someone like me. I fear I have been unable to adapt. If I’m at a restaurant I request to be seated next to the window, and if the blind is down I gently raise it just so I can see out underneath.

I’m happiest in the midst of a park or wilderness, so my husband, Rick, and I have set about building a modest version of our own park, one piece of wood, one plant, one tree at a time. Bird feeders first and foremost, bird baths, bird houses, native plantings and little “hidey” places scattered among the garden’s design provide shelter for wildlife. Ironically, even a bit humorous, it seems our best offered accommodations are often overlooked by the garden wildlife, opting instead for alternate, unpredictable locations as in the nesting Carolina Wrens upon our outdoor stereo speaker and an old clay pot atop my garden bench.

I remember my mother having two clothespin bags hanging from the clothes line. One she used for herself, the other she offered to a nesting pair of wrens that returned year after year. We have yet to install our martin houses this year. These took a beating from the weather the last couple of years and I’m concerned I will not hear their early arrival which should be any day now. However the cicadas have emerged to join into the chorus of spring.

The “hitch in my get along” (as Betty-Mom would say) in my open air existence is insects. Even with the most efficient screens, insects seem to find their way inside from my garden sanctuary. In our effort to naturally decrease the mosquito population we need to work on those martin houses, as well, this year we’ve decided to install bat houses. There are many designs and plans for bat houses available from the Internet and local garden and nature stores.

“A few dozen bats can make a big difference in a neighborhood,” said Mark Hostetler, extension wildlife specialist with University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “Many species can eat 1,000 flying insects per night, including mosquitoes, moths, flies – anything they can catch … Not all bat species will use a bat house, just the social ones. In the U.S. Southeast you’re most likely to attract Brazilian free-tailed bats, Southeastern bats and evening bats. Because bats are peaceful creatures, multiple species will sometimes share the same house.”

There are many myths about bats. They do not get caught in your hair and they rarely transmit disease. Bats are not rodents. Bats are actually more closely related to primates such as, monkeys and humans. The Indiana bat and the gray bat are listed as endangered species. Having been sensationalized for hundreds of years by writers, artists, ignorance, myth, superstition and last but not least filmmakers, bats are probably the most misunderstood mammal upon earth.

When one thinks of bats they automatically envision Halloween costumes, voraciously hungry vampires and evil witches. Bats are remarkably beneficial mammals feeding on night-flying insects. According to the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, “Each bat eats about its weight in food every night. This means that even a small colony, numbering several hundred individuals, consumes hundreds of pounds of insects every year. These insectivorous bats have tiny sharp teeth for chewing insects. Bats lack the chisel-like incisors of rodents thus, cannot use their teeth to gnaw wood or wires in structures.”

In Florida, all bats are classified as native non-game wildlife by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and are protected by law from wanton destruction. Bats can become a nuisance if they enter our homes and commercial buildings … bats in the belfry.

USF has a wealth of information on how to safely remove or exclude bats from our homes and businesses. As the population of nature lovers realizes that bats are beneficial they are increasingly putting up bat houses.

Although there are two families and 18 species of bats that breed in the eastern United States, only 13 species are known to breed in Florida including the Brazilian free-tailed bat, Eastern Pipistrel, evening bat, Florida’s largest resident and endangered bat – the Florida bonneted bat, Florida’s second largest bat species – the hoary bat, the endangered gray bat, northern yellow bat, Rafinesque’s big-eared bat, red bat, Seminole bat, Southeastern bat and the velvety free-tailed bat.

Open the windows. Let in the natural, fresh air. Get out the hammer, wood and nails. Create a home for nature’s natural pest patrol. Let’s get batty … back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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