Mosquitoes are one of nature’s most loathed insects. Waking up and realizing that you have a scratchy and itchy bite on your arm—or worse, your face—is a truly unpleasant experience. Mosquito bites generally swell up and itch due to a common allergic reaction to a component in the mosquito’s saliva. However, some people don’t have this allergic reaction and can be bitten without even realizing it.
Mosquitoes can be more than just a simple annoyance. Because they interact with the bloodstream of their victims and because they swarm in such large numbers, mosquitoes can be a rapid way for bloodborne diseases to spread. The historic malaria epidemic is one such example of this phenomenon; more recently, the outbreak of Zika virus in the United States was also a powerful lesson in the risks of mosquitoes. When mosquitoes are carrying potentially dangerous diseases, not having an allergic reaction to mosquitoes’ saliva can be particularly detrimental, as the person receiving the bite may not know the risks until they start experiencing more serious symptoms.
There is a multitude of ways to protect yourself and your family from mosquitoes especially for your home and garden .
On occasions with temporary exposure to mosquitoes, such as while camping, mosquito netting or bug sprays or natural citronella candles can serve as temporary means of keeping mosquitoes away. In more severe cases, such as in Florida during the Zika virus outbreak, people have considered large scale pesticide sprays, or even mosquito sterilization compounds. However, all of these measures tend to be expensive, impractical, and disastrous to the environment and dangerous to your health. Luckily, there is a simple and environmentally friendly way to prevent mosquitoes in your home without disrupting the local food chain—bats.
Bats get a bad rap they don’t deserve. Just by being themselves, bats provide a valuable service every day by eating loads of pesky insects, like mosquitoes and black flies. Just for getting rid of mosquitoes, they are my instant best friend! Bats are helpful to the gardener in many other ways too that you may not know about. Here is why you should encourage a healthy population of bats in your backyard.
Benefits of Bats
Bats are one of the most prolific natural predators of mosquitoes. Other predators of mosquitoes include fish, dragonflies, and frogs.
It can be difficult to attract these natural predators to your home, especially if you live in a dry climate. However, attracting bats to eat mosquitoes is quite possible in a variety of climates. Furthermore, as bats operate during the night and are relatively silent, they can be a seamless inclusion in your life.
There are several benefits of bats in your garden. A bat house can also be a stylish and unique centerpiece to a modern garden arrangement. In addition to mosquitoes, bats will eat flies and other pesky insects.
While bats do eat other insects, they are best-suited to eating mosquitos—studies show that for certain species, a single bat can eat up to a thousand mosquitoes in just one hour. Because mosquitoes tend to be easier to capture than other species of insects as they don’t fly as evasively to escape predation, they are a preferred food for many species of bats.
The “little brown bat,” a species of bat particularly common in the northern United States and Canada, is an especially prolific consumer of mosquitoes—according to one study, around 82% of little brown bats, on average, will eat mosquitoes regularly.
Bats are generally stereotyped quite poorly; however, these stereotypes are generally not accurate. Contrary to popular belief, bats are not completely blind, and their system of echolocation—a type of natural sonar consisting of rapid ultrasonic clicks to detect environmental obstacles—is actually superior to the vision of many other animals. Bats are also quite clean and rarely get stuck in peoples’ hair. With proper housing, which we will discuss in a later section, they will not prefer your attic as a home, and they won’t interfere negatively with the non-nocturnal ecosystem around them. This is particularly important if you have designed your garden to attract a variety of wild birds.
Overall, the presence of bats is considered by many scientists to be indicative of a healthy local ecosystem, as bats are quite sensitive to pesticides and airborne pollution. Furthermore, the worldwide population of bats, like bees, is on the decline due to the deteriorating state of the environment. Certain species of bats are excellent pollinators, which is ever more important as global populations of bees decrease.
By attracting bats to your home, you can both fight mosquitoes and balance the ecosystem at once!
Bats eat ALL the pests, get rid of mosquitoes!
- Mosquitoes, moths, gnats, wasps, midges and other bothersome insects are controlled naturally when there are bats around. Bats have voracious appetites, eating between 6,000-8,000 bugs every night. One bat can eat 1,200 insects per hour. Talk about amazing pest control! Best of all, no chemicals needed. Bats eat more insects than birds do and they do it mostly at night when the insects are the most active making them very effective insect control. This is very easy to get rid of mosquitoes.
Bats are important pollinators
- In Mexico and the American Southwest, bats are important pollinators for cacti and agave. Nectar-eating bats pollinate flowers and plants just like bees do. Over 700 types of plants are pollinated by bats with many of them relying on the bats’ efforts for their survival. Avocado, peach, mango, date, and fig trees all benefit from having bats around to pollinate them. We all know that bees and butterflies are awesome pollinators but bats can be too!
Bat guano is a great fertilizer
- Before modern livestock farming was a thing, farms relied heavily on imported bat guano to fertilize their large vegetable gardens. It contains important elements like nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate which contribute to healthy root and flower growth. Bat guano is still sold commercially but if you provide a welcoming space for the bats, they will fertilize your garden for free.
How to Attract Bats to My Yard?
Now that you know about all the benefits of having bats on your property, you are probably wondering how to attract bats to your garden. By far the best way to attract bats, and have them stay, is to install a bat house. We will go into more detail on bat houses in the following section, as they are important enough to merit a full, in-depth discussion. However, there are also several other ways how to attract bats to your yard or garden.
One of the most important things to do for bat attraction is to provide a good water source in your backyard or garden. On average, different species of bats can lose up to fifty percent of their total body weight through dehydration over a single twenty four hour cycle. Even bat species that live in the desert or drier climates, which have evolved to better conserve their water, will need a regular influx of hydration. As such, having a birdbath, a small pond, or other water feature will be highly attractive to potential bat tenants. These features are also quite attractive for any backyard setup, making this a win-win!
Another passive way to attract bats is through careful curation of your garden or flower beds. Choosing an assortment of particularly fragrant flowers or herbs is an excellent way to attract bats to your home. In addition, flowers with lighter colors have been shown to be more effective at achieving this goal. Some recommended flowers to choose from include goldenrod, evening primrose, dahlia, honeysuckle, and nicotiana. As with the previous discussion of water features, all of these options have the added benefits of not only attracting bats but also being inherently attractive options for your garden or backyard.
Now that you’ve got a good water source and have primed your garden to be maximally attractive to bats, it’s time to install a bat house! The next section will tell you everything you need to know to be an expert on bat houses, and in particular using bat houses for mosquito control.
Why Providing for Bats is Important besides getting rid of mosquitoes
- Bats are losing their natural habitats due to human development, trees and forests being cut down, wind turbines, and diseases like white-nose syndrome. Bat populations are struggling and it will be bad for us if their populations seriously drop. We will need to use more chemicals to do the job bats do naturally.
- A colony of bats in your yard will give you natural pest control, provide organic fertilizer, and help your flowers, fruits, and vegetables grow. It’s a win for your garden and yard and it is a win for the bats.
All About Bat Houses
As we’ve discussed previously, bats are an excellent natural way of controlling pesky mosquito populations around your home. It follows naturally then that installing a bat house for mosquitoes is an optimal approach to achieving long-term, consistent mosquito protection by bats.
There is a wide variety of locations that bats will consider for roosting. For a lot of bat species, dead trees are excellent roosting spots, as they have lots of skinny nooks and crannies between the splitting bark and tree trunks. However, dead trees are often a safety hazard, as a particularly strong windstorm can easily uproot them and cause them to come crashing through the roof or walls of your house. Even if you don’t live in a windy area, degradation of the soil at the tree’s base, or the rotting of the tree’s root network, can also cause the same issue. In addition, dead trees are generally considered particularly unattractive features in a backyard or neighborhood, so for most homeowners, leaving dead trees standing is not a viable option for providing housing for bats.
If they are not given a better option, bats can roost in the attics or roofs of buildings and homes. These spaces are generally warm and dry and provide a safe space for bats to live in—however, most people are not very excited about the idea of a family of bats taking up residence inside their actual homes. In addition, many types of insulation can be quite dangerous to bats. While warm and dry, commonly used fiberglass insulation can cut or irritate humans and bats alike if they handle it physically, so it’s best to seal up your attic properly and to provide a legitimate bat house that can turn into a bat home.
A bat house is a relatively simple device. Most bat houses simply look like rectangular wooden boxes from the outside, with an opening at the bottom end for bats to use as an entrance and exit.
There are many varieties of bat houses, depending on the resident bats that you are looking to attract. The most critical distinction is whether your bat house will include a nursery chamber or omit one; for the purpose of mosquito control, it is superior to choose a bat house that includes a nursery chamber. Nursing female bats will eat up to their own weight in bugs every night, making them much more prolific predators of mosquitoes.
The paint color for a proper bat house should be chosen based on the average daily high temperatures in July for North American locations—this is the hottest part of the year, and thus informs the paint choice for bat houses. In places with extremely hot high temperatures, such as the desert southwest, white is the proper choice for bat house paint. In colder areas, such as the northeast, a black or very dark paint should be chosen. These paint colors are necessary to balance the effects of sunlight, maintaining a liveable interior temperature for your bats.
Speaking of sunlight, bat houses should be installed in a location on your property that gets six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. Usually, you can achieve this by pointing the box to the south or east. It can be tempting to install bat houses on trees or poles, as these feel the most natural, but it is actually much better to install bat houses on the flat side of a wall. Mounting the bat house in this way makes it much more difficult for predators to get at your bats, and also leaves their entry and exit points clear—the easier it is for bats to get in and out of your bat house, the more bugs they will be able to eat in one night. If you have an extended rooftop or eave that you can mount your bat house underneath, this is an added bonus; protection from rain will ensure that your bat houses last as long as possible, getting you the most value for your investment. In addition, a cover such as this makes it more difficult for predators like owls to swoop down on your bats. In terms of placement, it is optimal to install your bat house at least twelve feet from the ground, and around twenty-five feet from nearby trees and branches.
You can definitely install more than one bat house on your property—bats are social animals, so the more houses the merrier! When installing multiple bat houses, it is a good idea to test out several different locations around your home. Generally one of these areas will see more bat action first, and you can move the less active bat house to the better location.
It is important to keep any house cats away from your bat houses at night. Cats will often hunt bats if they are able, which defeats the whole purpose of investing in a bat house for mosquito prevention.
This brings us to the end of our discussion of using bats as a natural way to fight mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can range from a nuisance to a serious health concern, and attracting bats to your property is one of the most effective and least environmentally damaging means of controlling them.
You should now be well educated on the many benefits of bats, and some of the false stereotypes surrounding different bat species. You also know everything there is to know about attracting bats to your home and garden—the proper ways to set up bat houses, the best water sources, and even the best flowers to attract bats to move into your bat houses.
If you want to learn more about bat houses and bat advocacy, Bat Conservation International is the premier organization for everything bat-related.