Let’s Celebrate Bat Week

By Kathy Conner Cornell VCE Southside Master Gardener Bat Week is held from October 24 to October 31. It is “an international celebration of the role of bats in nature” according to Bat Conservation International. If we can get past our negative bat bias and learn the importance of bats in our world, we would find these creatures are totally fascinating. Think about it, bats are the only mammal that can fly and yes, they are a mammal, not a rodent.
: It is common for bats in Virginia to live in tree cavities. If you see these cavities, look for bat activity around sunset. Bats provide many services to our environment through their consumption of insect pests of agricultural products and of humans. Some species also act as pollinators of night blooming plants. Some eat fruit so spread seeds to further future populations of the species. There are over 1400 species of bats in the world. If left alone, bats cause humans no harm. According to Bat Conservation International, “like most wild animals, bats prefer to avoid contact with humans”. Closer to home, seventeen bat species have been recorded in Virginia. Per the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources “three (Gray Bat, Indiana Bat, and Virginia-Big-eared Bat) are federally endangered. One (northern long-eared bat) is federally threatened. Three (Rafinesque’s Big-eared Bat, little brown bat, and tri-colored bat) are state endangered”. Just so you know per the Endangered Species Act it is illegal to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct”, good advice to follow with any bat. Bats in Virginia are insect eaters and, amazingly, can eat 1000 mosquitoes in an hour. That is reason enough to want to keep them around. However, bats also eat Japanese beetles (Hooray!), flying ants, spittle bugs, June beetles, cucumber beetles, stink bugs and moths including the corn earworm moth. They consume one-third of their body weight. When pregnant or lactating, females will consume 100% of their body weight. Reasons for bat decline are things we learn cause demise of other creatures such as climate change that leads to more severe hurricanes, use of pesticides, loss of habitat and cats, and yes I have an outdoor cat Lady who has brought a bat home on rare occasion. The fungal disease White Nose Syndrome is also dealing a devastating blow to our native bats. Currently there is no cure but studies of the disease continue. There are things that we can do to help bats. Most native bats roost in tree cavities. If a dead tree isn’t posing a safety hazard, let it be. The snag, as they are called, will help more wildlife than just the bat. You can put up a bat house for roosting and raising pups, baby bats. Both the National Wildlife Federation Garden for Wildlife™ and Bat Conservation International websites have instructions on how to build a bat house. If your garden attracts a lot of insects, it will be good for the bats. Avoid insecticide use if at all possible. A pond or water feature will provide a water source for bats. Celebrating Bat Week is another good way to bring awareness to our bats. The website www.batweek.org is loaded with fun bat activities like making bat puppets, making origami bats and learning about specific bat species. There are lots of videos on the Bat Week website. I particularly enjoyed one that took you through Bracken Cave, the largest maternity cave in the world, as if you were a bat flying through the cave. During these homeschooling days, there is so much information for a child to learn on the Bat Week website and also the Bat Conservation International website. Bats are our friends and we need to keep their population alive and healthy. Ponder on this point, without bats we would not be able to enjoy a margarita. Bats are the sole pollinator of the agave plant which is used to make tequila. While we are all still practicing ‘social distancing’ due to COVID-19, and all Halifax County buildings remain closed to the public, if you have gardening questions, you can best reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to wmccaleb@vt.edu. If you can’t email, you can call and leave a message at the Extension Master Gardener Help Desk at 434-830-3383, giving us your name, telephone number, and nature of the call. The Help Desk phone is checked timely and someone will get back to you, although it may be from a different telephone number. Keep washing your hands, wear your mask, and look to the sky at sunset to catch a glimpse of our friends, the bats.