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CONSERVATION CORNER

For the week of May 21, 2007
Bats
by James L. Cummins

One of my wife’s, my father-in-law’s and my favorite past times is to sit on the front porch after dinner and watch the 60 or so bats leave from behind the shutters on the front of our home.

Dr. Merlin D. Tuttle, the founder and executive director of Bat Conservation International, is one of our nation's foremost authorities on bats. Bat Conservation International has created an educational video titled Building Homes for Bats. It is narrated by Dr. Tuttle and features some very successful bat house builders. They explain how they attract bats.

“Why attract bats?” you ask. Not only do bats reduce insect pests, but they are also fascinating to watch. When people, who are often frightened by bats close to their homes, realize how many insects are being eaten nightly by these flying mammals, they usually want the bats to stick around.

Wildlife biologists have helped many homeowners remove bats from their attics and transfer them to bat houses on an outside wall of the house or to a high pole in the yard. By placing a piece of plastic or netting where the bat enters the home, bats are able to fly out because the sheet is open at the bottom, but they are blocked upon return. A bat house placed close to the old hole will provide them a new home.

The tape also includes a bat house building workshop that explains how to build a bat house. The house provides vertical roosting chambers set 3/4 of an inch apart, a peaked roof to keep out rain and a grooved panel at the bottom, “to give bats a leg up, so to speak, when coming in for a landing.”

In Mississippi, bat houses should be painted a light color so the house will not absorb a lot of heat. They should be mounted on high metal poles or a building near a water source, like a lake, pond, creek or river.

Plans for bat houses, with precise, clear instructions, may be ordered online at www.batcon.org or by calling 1-800-538-BATS.

“We continue to make a lot of progress in educating people about saving bats,” Dr. Tuttle said. “But it's an uphill battle because of the exaggerated headlines people still see about bat rabies.”

Contrary to what you have heard, bats will not fly into your hair nor are they more likely to carry rabies than any other wild animal. “In the last 20 years, we've averaged 1.5 human cases of bat rabies per year in the United States and Canada,” he said.

There are 1.5 million bats living under the Congress Avenue bridge in Austin, Texas. “If bats are even remotely as dangerous as people say they are, people would be dying like flies in Austin,” he said. “But we haven't had a single problem.”


James L. Cummins is Executive Director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi. Their web site is www.wildlifemiss.org.