16 species of bats help control Georgia’s bugs

Georgia is home to 16 species of bats and all of them eat insects exclusively. Bats are mammals just like you and me — they are warm-blooded, covered in hair, have live babies and nurse their young (called pups). Unlike you and me, they are the only mammals that can fly. If you are thinking, what about flying squirrels? They don’t actually fly but glide or parachute by means of a furred membrane.

 

Bats actually have a complex bone structure that allows for full-powered flight. A bat’s skeleton is very similar to those found in birds as well as humans. Bats are also nocturnal and use a system of sound waves and echoes called echolocation to find food, navigate and communicate with others, sometimes in total darkness. This type of biological sonar is an ultrasound created by the larynx and emitted by both the mouth and sometimes nose of these flying mammals. Essentially the bat yells all the time while flying and when the sound bounces off something else, it can tell what it is by hearing the echo.

 

Researchers also record these ultrasonic calls with devices called “bat detectors” to tell what type of bat is in the area by the frequency of the calls. In recent years, researchers in several countries have developed “bat call libraries” that contain recordings of local bat species that have been identified known as “reference calls” to assist with identification.

What else can we learn about bats? Ever heard ‘blind as a bat’? It actually is a misnomer. Bats can see fairly well.

Bats live on every continent except Antarctica and you find high frequency screamers as far north as Alaska and as far south as Argentina. There are more than 1,300 species of bats and most species live in tropical regions near the equator where it is nice and warm.

Most bats feed on insects and can consume copious amounts of bugs. A nursing mom can consume her body weight in insects every day. A favorite food of some bats is the earworm moth also referred to as cotton bollworm or tomato fruit worm. Worldwide crop damage from this one moth is estimated at 1 billion a year. In Texas alone, the bats save cotton farmers $740,000 in potential damage in one year. Some tropical bats eat fruit and are critical for dropping seeds to restore cleared or damaged forests. Some bats are also pollinators, which is a big positive.

The smallest bat is the bumblebee bat from Thailand and is the size of your thumb. The bumblebee bat weighs less than a penny and has a wingspan of about 6 inches. On the other hand, the largest bat on record is the flying fox. These bats have a wingspan that can be as large as 6 feet. That would be an NBA-sized Dracula with wings like that.

The common vampire bat is found in the tropics of Mexico, Central America and South America and only feeds on blood. This bat has a special chemical in their saliva that keeps blood from clotting. Scientists studied this anti-clotting chemical and used it to develop medicine that helps humans that suffer from blood clots and strokes.

Bat droppings are called guano and are a fantastic amendment to the garden. It is a natural fertilizer with a 10-3-1 Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium makeup. And while you ask who in the world sells Bat Guano Fertilizer? Home Depot has it available for in-store pickup when ordering it online or even on Amazon.com.

Where do bats make their homes?: Depending on the species, bats can live in hollow trees, under big leaves and roost under loose bark while others will hang from tree branches. Several species of bats roost in caves, cliff walls, and abandoned mines.

Caves are a common home for bats. Bracken Cave in Texas is home to almost 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats.

City bats can be found roosting under bridges and in buildings. If you have louvered gabled vents in your house, there is a good chance there are some bats finding a place to roost. You probably don’t want a bat living inside your house, so make sure that gable vents and soffits are closed off with wire mesh. Certain species of bats can enter your home through a hole 3/8-inch wide.

The good and bad of bats: If you are trying to get rid of bats that have invaded the inside of your home, avoid using Naphthalene (moth balls). The quantity of moth balls it would take to deter bats to be effective will sicken humans before it affects the bats.

When working in an enclosed area where bat dropping are present, make sure you wear some type of respiratory safety device like a mask. The buildup of bat guano may provide a growth medium for microorganisms, some of which are pathogenic to humans. Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by breathing spores of fungus often found in bat droppings. Symptoms of this infection include fever, chills, headache, cough and muscle aches.

If you would like to decrease the population of insects in your yard in a natural way, buy or build a bat box. There are many types for bat homes to choose from. Placement is critical and best suited with a lot of sun, at least 15ft off the ground and nearby water. Mounting on a pole or the side of a building is good, but avoid mounting bat houses to trees. This can lead to increased predation, branches obstruction and too much shade.

Some people are afraid of bats because they think that bats carry rabies and like any other mammal they can get the disease. However, very few bats have rabies. And you can only get rabies if a rabid animal bites you or if you come in contact with its saliva.

Reach Campbell Vaughn, the agriculture and natural resources cooperative extension agent for Richmond County, by e-mailing augusta@uga.edu.

 

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