Your backyard is one of the best places to go green. You're responsible for balancing your very own ecosystem that is dependent on the plants, herbs, and trees you cultivate to attract the necessary wildlife. The bat has gained some popularity recently, owing to its ability to consume thousands of insects per hour, thus raising the question: are bats a green alternative to insecticides?
WHAT BATS DO FOR US AND OUR ECOSYSTEM
Washington State, as an example, is home to fifteen bat species, all of which subsist on insects universally considered garden and backyard pests: moths, beetles, flies, and mosquitoes. In fact, the bat is capable of consuming 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour and up to half its own body weight. Many insects are able to hear bats from great distances and will avoid areas where they are present, thus making the bat a useful guest for homeowners, gardeners, and farmers. However, most of the bat's natural habitat is disappearing due to human interference; either by altering or destroying cave systems, cutting down old growth forests, or using pesticides. The growing endangerment of bats affects many other plants and animals that depend on them for survival, since they are generally considered the “keystone species.” Bat populations aren't just necessary for your own backyard or garden, they're vital to Washington's ecosystem.
Bats have a bad reputation for being rabies riddled airborne rodents, so why should you encourage their presence in your general vicinity? First of all, bat rabies accounts for approximately one human death in the United States each year. And second, the old saying ‘they're more afraid of you than you are of them' happens to be true (though I have my doubts about that saying and spiders).
HOW TO ATTRACT BATS TO YOUR BACKYARD
One can't simply will a colony of bats into their backyard as an insecticide alternative, however. And even once you've got some roosting in your tree, they might not be completely effective for your needs. But you can try some of the following tips to see a rise in your backyard's bat population, with fewer insects being a likely bonus.
- Leave hollow trees and snags.
- Put up bat houses. You can simply build a bat house or buy one online for $30.
- Minimize your use of pesticides.
- Entice them with plants that bloom day and night: bittercress, four-o'clock, fireweed, goldenrod, phlox, wild sweet William, bachelor's buttons, and cardinal flower. Or try aromatic herbs such as lavender, spearmint, thyme, and sage arranged close together to concentrate food sources
- Install a mercury vapor light in your garden. If turned on around dusk, it will attract flying insects like moths and provide easy prey for foraging bats.
You won't see these nocturnal creatures at work, but brown bats are the best natural pest controllers you can invite into your backyard. Bat Conservation International offers some information on installing a bathouse and more specifically on attracting bats to your bathouse.