Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Horticulture News
Bats Eat Mosquitoes as Well as Numerous Garden Pests
Tirelessly swooping and diving in relentless pursuit of prey flies a number of often overlooked aerial phantoms that patrol the twilight hours between dusk and dawn. They are the ultimate night time predator....the bat! One bat can eat 600 mosquitoes in an hour! Bats save farmers and gardeners millions of dollars each year by consuming numerous crop pests.
Bats are incredible creatures and hold the distinction of being the worlds only flying mammal. Bats occur worldwide and make up a quarter of all mammal species on the planet. Of the approximately 850 species of bats only 39 occur in the United States and of those, 17 occur in Florida. There are 10 species of bats commonly found in southwest Florida.
Some people wrongly believe bats are flying mice. In fact, bats form a separate group of mammals more closely related to moles, shrews, and even monkeys than to rodents. Except for certain unique features, their anatomy is similar to that of most other mammals.
Bat's wings are very different from those of birds, and built upon the same general pattern as the limbs of other mammals including man. The wing is composed of an upper arm, forearm, wrist, and hand with thumb and four fingers. The hand and fingers are greatly elongated in order to spread and control the wing. The hind limbs of the bat are attached at the hip in reverse, pointing the knees backward. This arrangement is thought to facilitate the bat's ability to alight upside down and hang by its toes.
All bats can see, some see better than us. The mega-bats have very large eyes that enable them to see flowers and fruit in the night. Smaller bats can see, but do rely on their unique ability to echo locate for capturing insects and navigating in the dark.
Bats are an essential link in the balance of nature. In Florida, bats provide a valuable service by consuming mosquitoes and other night flying insects--while posing little threat to human health.
Bat populations are on the decline throughout the United States. Loss of habitat due to the disturbance of natural and man-made roosting sites in buildings, old trees, and caves is a major factor in this decline. Another factor is active and persistent persecution by people not aware of the bat's gentle nature and beneficial activities. Curiously, bats have been feared and maligned by man since the Dark Ages.
Some of this fear comes from the misconception that most bats carry rabies and other diseases when, in fact, less than ½ of 1 percent carry rabies. There is no evidence that widespread destruction of bats or their roosts has reduced the already low health hazard. Bats are actually clean animals that groom themselves daily. You are more likely to contract rabies from an unvaccinated dog or cat or contract food poisoning at a church picnic than get sick from bats.
Bats do not want to be in your hair. An experiment to test this fact could not get a bat to stay on the person's head even though the hair was wrapped around the bat. They flew off as soon as they could disentangle themselves.
There are only 3 species of vampire bats. These live only in Central and South America. They do not suck blood, instead they make a small incision with their razor sharp teeth and then lap up the blood. Scientist are currently studying the saliva of these bats in the hope of developing new anticoagulant drugs to prevent blood clots in heart patients.
Bats have been unjustly persecuted by misinformed people who have been solely educated by exaggerated stories, media hype and horror movies. As a result of our ignorance bat roosting sites have been intentionally destroyed resulting in the death of millions of bats
Homeowners who are interested preserving any attracting bats can take several steps. Uncut wood lots, snags, and viable wetlands with open water are important bat habitats. In particular, cabbage palms and others which retain their dried fronds, left unpruned are tremendously valuable as a home for bats. Planting night blooming or fragrant flowers will help attract night flying insects on which bats feed. You can also provide alternative habitat by building and erecting build a bat house on your property. A single house may become home to 100 or more bats which will consume up to 60,000 insects a night! Plans for bat houses and more information on bats is available from the Hendry County Extension Office.
Bats do lots for us, they are kind of like the bug police, they fly around and catch bugs using a process called echolocation. They reduce pests naturally reducing pesticide usage helping to make our water and earth cleaner. Do your part to help preserve these interesting and helpful little creatures. Good luck and good gardening.
Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service. Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975, e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 863-674-4092 or 863-983-1598. You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle. Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.
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