Helping enhance bats’ habitats while the mammals hibernate

Andrea Sachs

THE WASHINGTON POST – When people in the United States (US) check the skies at dusk recently, they might have noticed less fluttering overhead.

Bats are preparing for the colder weather in the US.

Some species will seek caves or abandoned mines, where they will hibernate until they awake in spring. Others will fly south, where food is more plentiful.

And a few will take a long snooze in a pile of leaves.

Although bats will be out of sight for several months, they should still be on our minds.

The winged mammals make our lives less buggy by eating moths, mosquitoes and other insects.

Bats, the only flying mammals, help the environment by pollinating crops and protecting them from insects. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST
Little brown bats with white-nose syndrome, which has killed more than seven million bats in North America since 2006

In tropical and subtropical regions, they pollinate and spread the seeds of some of our favorite snack foods, such as avocado, coconut and almonds.

Sadly, bats don’t have an easy life. Pesticides kill their insect food source, and construction projects destroy their habitats.

Predators such as owls, snakes and cats make a meal out of them.

Worst of all, white-nose syndrome has killed more than seven million bats in North America since 2006.

The deadly fungus strikes while they are hibernating. Scientists have been experimenting with treatments, such as spraying the animals with a bacteria that helps them fight the disease. But so far there’s no cure.

“White-nose syndrome has slammed populations of cave-dwelling bats,” said Kim Winter, a US Forest Service employee who helps plan Bat Week in October. “Some caves have zero bats now.”

One of the most at-risk species is the little brown bat. To raise awareness of its plight, a group of Girl Scouts proposed the idea of making it the “state mammal” of Washington, DC. This month, Mayor Muriel Bowser approved the request, making the role official.

While the bats hibernate, or vacation down South, it is suggested to create a welcoming environment for their return starting with the backyard. Those living in southern US are suggested to avoid using harmful pesticides on their lawns or gardens, and remove thick vines and invasive plant species from possible roosting spots, such as a hollow tree or a rock with deep cracks. Setting up a water feature, such as a bird bath, and adding native plants to the garden, will also help by attracting pollinating bats or bugs.

The Pollinator Partnership offers free planting guides based on your region. Bats, which are nocturnal (awake at night), are drawn to fragrant plants that bloom after sunset, such as moonflowers and evening primrose.

During the day, the critters need a place to hang for a rest. Most people won’t want bats in their attic or eaves. A better option would be to build an outdoor bat house.

Bat Conservation International recommends buying a kit, such as the one available through Bat Conservation and Management (batmanagement.com), or constructing a shelter from scratch. The organisation has three designs that people can download free at batcon.org/about-bats/bat-houses.

And finally, hosting a party featuring the foods that bats help grow and protect from insects.

Batweek.org’s cookbookfeatures recipes with bat- and kid-friendly ingredients – none of which are bugs.