Much like snakes, spiders and everything else that creeps and crawls around at night, bats have quite a few humans spooked. Whether due to an association with Transylvania, or getting dive-bombed during a late-night swim in the pond, anti-bat prejudice tends to run deep. As it turns out however, while there are certainly some negatives, having bats around can offer a whole host of positives for your humble homestead. Read on for more on these airborne mammals.
North America alone is home to 47 different species of bat and, with the exception of three which feast on nectar and pollen, all are insect-eaters. Nocturnal hunters, bats prowl the skies from sunset to sunrise in search of mosquitoes and other prey, utilizing a combination of both sight and echolocation. These skilled hunters can take out 1,000 mosquitoes an hour, with nursing mothers sometimes bagging 4,500 in a single evening. If you’re from an area as mosquito ridden as myself, you’ll know that is no small thing, particularly considering they do so without harming many “beneficial” insects like dragonflies and ladybugs, making them a more discerning method of eradication that sprays and pesticides.
Bats you’ll typically see around the farm come in found distinct varieties–brown bats, red bats, free-tailed bats and long-nosed bats. The big brown bat is found everywhere in the continental U.S., except its southernmost points. They average five inches long, with a 13-inch wingspan, and tend to roost in man-made enclosures like attics and barns. Their favorite meals include June bugs, flies, beetles, moths and mosquitoes.
Little brown bats are virtually identical, but top out around three-inches long. You can easily identify them by a rapid but erratic flight pattern. These actually tend to be one of your biggest eaters, and don’t need quite as secluded a nesting spot, generally opting for the building eves, sheathes of bark or stone cliffs.
Eastern red bats, as colorful a breed as the name implies, range from rust-colored to a dark yellow. Low fliers, these bats forage primarily for ground insects, like crickets, beetles and cicadas. Tree dwellers, these bats are primarily found in the eastern woodlands, from the Canadian Rockies down to the Florida panhandle.
The Mexican free-tailed bat can be found in lowlands all across the southern United States, with colones in the millions. They enjoy caves, disused buildings and bridges, generally needing some space to spread thanks to large colony sizes. These bats are truly the kings of the midnight buffet, with a famous colony of 20 million in Bracken Cave Texas consuming up to 440,000 pounds of insects nightly. With long, narrow wings, there is little these speed demons cannot catch.
While not too similar to the rest of the bats on this list, long-nosed bats are an example of the aforementioned pollen and nectar bats. Found in the Sonoran Desert, these bats help pollinate the local ecosystem much like bees do in other areas.
Keeping Bats Around
Much like the 34-year old stepson that won’t leave your couch, bats tend to stick around if you give them a home. Bat houses can be easily constructed or purchased online. For best results, place them on a southward-facing structure far removed from natural predators like owls, hawks and snakes. While night-blooming plants and bodies of water can help keep bats around, it also slightly cancels out their benefit, as it does so by attracting more nocturnal insects. This in mind, I would recommend simply adding a bat house, and letting nature do the rest.
A humble homesteader based in an undisclosed location, Lars Drecker splits his time between tending his little slice of self-sustaining heaven, and bothering his neighbors to do his work for him. This is mainly the fault of a debilitating predilection for fishing, hunting, camping and all other things outdoors. When not engaged in any of the above activities, you can normally find him broken down on the side of the road, in some piece of junk he just “fixed-up.”