Bats Eat Bugs – Great Natural Insect Control
by Damien Andrews
Bats do eat bugs – contrary to rumors started by books and ultimately movies. Well, to be perfectly fair and honest, some bats do drink the blood of animals – a practice known as "hematophagy." But of the roughly 1,100 known species of bats located throughout the world, only a couple of them actually acquire their primary sustenance from the fresh blood of other animals.
It takes a bit to cut through all the bad press that bats have received over the years, but if you can wipe the slate clean and start from scratch, bats are not only very interesting critters, they are critical to some ecosystems, and frequently of great value to man. Bats, for example, are great pollinators. They are also responsible for carrying the seeds of many plants and trees over great distances, thus increasing the range and numbers of those flora.
Bats are, with very few exceptions, quite small. Discounting their wingspan, they are extremely small. The word "wingspan" is potentially misleading when describing the apparatus that gives bats the ability to fly. Over time, membranes formed over the forelegs of bats – membranes which also joined to the body. When the bat outstretches its forelegs, its wings appear. Flapping the wings allows bats to fly. Bats are the only mammals capable of flight. Other mammals which are thought to fly, actually only glide – such as the flying squirrel.
The unusual wings of the bat, which are thin and delicate, combine with the light, tiny bodies to produce an exceptional aerobat – no pun intended. Bats are able to execute extremely sharp turns at full flight speed, and despite their lack of decent vision, zip in and out of tree limbs and branches with startling aplomb. And since bats do the majority of their hunting at night, with limited eyesight, their extreme aerobatics become even more noteworthy.
As mentioned above, bats do not possess very effective eyesight. But evolution and nature have conjoined in the development of a most effective system of sight. It's called echolocation, and it's a truly sophisticated sonar system housed within the tiny body and brain of the bat. This is exceptional considering the size of man's sonar systems. Bats emit a sound in a specific hertz range which bounces off of objects and back to the bat. The bat uses the bounced feedback to make awesomely accurate 'pictures' of its surroundings.
Bats do eat bugs, but more specifically they eat flying insects – lots of them. And this is where two of the bat's previously mentioned unique abilities serve it well. In total darkness, a bat can easily detect a small flying insect fifty yards away, and then the bat uses its speedy, agile flight to nail its meal in mid-air. This makes the bat an effective natural insect control measure.
The best part of the diet of bats is how much they love to feast on mosquitoes. Even the smallest of the North American varieties of bat can easily consume 400 mosquitoes per hour, and larger varieties eat 600 or more per hour. Mosquitoes are not only the leading insect pest, they are carriers of some horrific diseases including: Eastern equine encephalitis; Japanese encephalitis; La Crosse encephalitis; St. Louis encephalitis; West Nile virus; Western equine encephalitis; Dengue Fever; Malaria; Rift Valley Fever; and Yellow Fever. This, in combination with the adverse environmental effects of pesticides, makes the bat's natural insect control capacity even more important and desirable.
If you can house just eight bats for natural insect control, you can expect that they will consume about 38,000 mosquitoes per night of hunting.
If you are interested in attracting and housing bats on your property for natural insect control, then all you need is a properly constructed and properly placed bat house – or houses, depending on how large an area you want the insects controlled on, and how many bats you want controlling them.