Ben­e­fi­cial bats

Maryland Independent - - Sports - Jamie Drake

What’s not to love about fall? In my hey­day I truly wished sum­mer was end­less. Now that I’ve borne four chil­dren into the world and my bikini bod is a thing of the past, spend­ing the day ca­vort­ing around in a bathing suit isn’t quite what it used to be. And since I am re­spon­si­ble for the elec­tric bill, Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber are near and dear to my heart ( or is it my wal­let?). It’s a real shame this fall has been so hot and we weren’t able to turn the air con­di­tion­ing off un­til just a few days ago.

Now that there’s a chill in the air, I can bun­dle up in my most com­fort­able jeans and sweat­shirts. Ahhh, I feel more re­laxed just think­ing about it. Sum­mer­time is all about fresh veg­eta­bles from the gar­den and grilling on the deck, but those kinds of meals take a lot of prepa­ra­tion and there’s usu­ally a sig­nif­i­cant amount of clean­ing up after­wards. Crock­pot recipes are just the ticket when it’s cold out­side, and are about the eas­i­est meals to fix and there are no pots and pans to wash when din­ner is over.

I hope you were able to en­joy some time out­doors with your fam­ily this past week­end. My fam­ily spent Sun­day af­ter­noon at a lo­cal farm, check­ing out the live­stock, go­ing on a hayride, and pick­ing out pump­kins. Trips to the pump­kin patch are some of the fond­est mem­o­ries I have of time spent with my chil­dren.

Our youngest’s vo­cab­u­lary is just be­gin­ning to ex­pand dra­mat­i­cally, and this past week­end she learned how to say goat and cow and pet­ted a bunny for the first time. She pre­tended to drive a trac­tor and played in the corn maze and climbed over bales of straw.

When it was time to head home, we bought a peck of Hon­ey­crisp and Granny Smith ap­ples that my kids and I turned into a tasty pie for dessert. And the fresh air was cer­tainly good for our ap­petites. Ev­ery of last speck of din­ner was con­sumed in record time and the pie didn’t last long ei­ther. Yes, fall is such a won­der­ful time of year.

The leaves are chang­ing color now. With each gust of wind, col­or­ful leaves swirl though the air in their fi­nal dance of au­tumn. And the pin­na­cle of fall, Hal­loween, is just around the corner.

Now is also a great time to buy or build a bat box and put it up. Don’t worry, the only vam­pires that will be vis­it­ing your house will be of the three- and four­foot va­ri­ety wear­ing cos­tumes and say­ing, “Trick or Treat.” Of the more than 1,000 species of bats in the world, only three of them are vam­pire bats, and, rest as­sured, none of them are found here in Southern Mary­land.

But there are quite a few species of bats that call Mary­land home and they could use all the help they can get from us hu­mans. Of the less than a dozen species that live or mi­grate through our state, sev­eral are listed on state or fed­eral lists as threat­ened or en­dan­gered, and three species are un­der re­view.

Habi­tat loss, wind tur­bines along mi­gra­tory routes and dis­tur­bances to ma­ter­nal colonies

are all ma­jor threats to bats. In some parts of the world still to­day, bats are hunted for bush­meat. And you’ve prob­a­bly heard of the disease that’s wip­ing out bats in huge num­bers, White Nose Syn­drome, which was first de­tected in Mary­land in 2010.

Re­cent surveys show that bat pop­u­la­tions in Mary­land are dra­mat­i­cally de­clin­ing, Lit­tle Brown Bats 96 per­cent, Tri-col­ored Bats 95 per­cent and

North­ern Long-eared Bats 88 per­cent.

This is a ter­ri­ble thing be­cause bats have very im­por­tant niches to fill in our ecosys­tem. Many eat mas­sive amounts of in­sects, in­clud­ing bugs that dam­age agri­cul­ture. Some bats help pol­li­nate plants and fruit-eat­ing bats in the trop­ics eat and then dis­perse seeds that will grow and re­store ar­eas of rain­forests that have been cleared or dam­aged. We need bats.

All the species of bats in Mary­land are in­sec­ti­vores. And that’s good news for us out­doors­peo­ple. Bats can con­sume up to half their body weight in in­sects ev­ery night. And preg­nant or nurs­ing bats will eat dou­ble that in a night. Bats eat gypsy moths, stink bugs, gnats, wasps and even mos­qui­toes.

A bat box can pro­vide a roost­ing place for mother bats dur­ing their re­pro­duc­tive sea­son, March through Septem­ber. In Mary­land, the Lit­tle Brown Bat, Big Brown Bat, North­ern Long-eared Bat and Evening Bat are all likely can­di­dates to use a bat box.

If you have the room,

set­ting up two or three boxes is ideal. That way a mother bat can move its pup if the nurs­ery isn’t the right tem­per­a­ture. And some bats will over­win­ter in boxes, es­pe­cially in the more east­erly parts of Mary­land that do not have caves or mines.

Any­time of the year is a good time to put up bat boxes, but it may take a while for bats to find your box. Bats are a lot like pur­ple mar­tins and will not seek out new roosts un­less forced to move or the colony gets too big.

There is no sure­fire way to at­tract bats, but if you oc­ca­sion­ally see

bats swoop­ing around at dusk, there is a good chance your box will get oc­cu­pied. Keep in mind that bat boxes in­stalled on build­ings or poles have greater oc­cu­pancy than those mounted on trees and are safer for the bats.

In Mary­land, boxes should be ori­ented south­east or south­west and should get at least six to seven hours of di­rect sun­light daily. Paint­ing the ex­te­rior black can help trap heat. Lo­cate the box 20 to 30 feet from tree branches and other ob­sta­cles and 12 to 20 feet above ground. And bats pre­fer to live within a quar­ter-mile of a wa­ter source such as a stream or pond.

You can pur­chase a ready-to-in­stall bat box or get the whole fam­ily in­volved and build your own in an af­ter­noon. There are count­less free de­sign plans avail­able on­line and many books with bird­house plans also in­clude bat box in­struc­tions.

And, we are get­ting to that time of year al­ready. A bat box would make a nice Christ­mas gift and is a great way to help ed­u­cate peo­ple about the ben­e­fits of bats liv­ing in their back­yard.

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