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       Attracting Bats To Your Garden

Many people are afraid of bats.  Them see them as nasty, blood-sucking, dirty little rodents that are dangerous because they can give you rabies.  However, bats have been the victim of bad press.  Bats are not as likely to get rabies as many other animals, such as skunks and raccoons.  Since they fly and come out at night, people are less likely to have contact with bats to get bitten than they are with other animals.  However, bats will take advantage of a hole into your attic to nest there.  Make sure you seal your attic well and provide alternative housing such as bat houses for them to live in. 

Bats pollinate a large number of ornamental and edible plants in tropical regions. In more temperate regions, such as North America, they are mostly insectivores. Bats provide excellent organic control of mosquitoes and other flying insects because of this.  Bats can eat 600 to 1200 mosquitoes or other flying insects an hour.  In fact, bats are the single most important controller of night-flying insects, including mosquitoes, moths, and beetles. Of course, watching them skillfully fly around your yard can also be great fun.

Bats need what most creatures do:  a place with food, water, and shelter.  Bats need shelter within a quarter mile of water.  If you have a water feature in your garden they will skim the surface of it while flying to get a drink.  They are also attracted to water features because of the large number of insects that live there.  A bird bath will do if you do not have a pond in your garden.

Bats generally come out at night.  One of the best ways to attract bats is planting night-blooming flowers.  You can have a moon garden with plants such as include datura, moonflower, four-o'clock, yucca, evening primrose, night-blooming water lily, night-blooming jessamine, cleome, and nicotiana. These flowers will attract night flying insects, which in turn attract the bats hunting for food.  If you want to attract bats, do not use pesticides which kill their prey.  Not only does it leave a bat with nothing to eat at your house, it may harm them when they eat the insects that survived the pesticide.

Bats will shelter where they can get in.  They do not chew holes in your house, but will enter an attic to roost if something else, such as a squirrel, has already provided a hole.  However, bats will also roost in a number of more appealing places, such as abandoned buildings, hollow trees, under a building's eves, in loose tree bark, and in bat houses.  Like other wild animals, bats are suffering from reduced habitat and increased pesticide use.  A clean bat house helps give them a safe place to stay. 

There are a multitude of bat house plans on the internet. The best bat house is at least 2 feet tall, 1 foot wide, and 3 inches deep.  Construct them out of rough, non-toxic wood such as cedar or pine to make it easier for the bats to climb on it when entering or leaving the house.  Put the house up fifteen to twenty feet high, preferably in a sunny spot near a structure.  Painting the bat house black in colder climates will help the box absorb heat and keep the house warm.  However, do not paint the bat house black if you are in a hot climate or the bat house can get too hot. In that case, paint it gray.  Whatever color you paint it, use three coats of flat, exterior grade water based paint.  This will help keep the temperature in the bat house between 85 and 100 degrees F, the best temperature for bats.  Do not paint the interior of the box.  Bats need a rough, natural surface to climb or roost in. 

Many of the bat house plans use one half sheet of plywood to build.  Consider building two boxes and painting one box gray and another black.  Mount them back to back on a pole so the bats can relocate based on the temperature in each bat box.  Bat boxes are best put up in early spring, when the bats are setting up their colonies.  This gives momma bats a place to safely raise their pups.  However, you can set a bat box out at any time of the year.  You may just have to wait longer for tenants that way.  Also, bat attractants and lures have been shown by research not to work.  If you build the proper bat box and mount it properly, you have at least a fifty percent chance of attracting bats in the first year. You must have permission to place a bat house on a utility pole.  Do not place the house on a tree because snakes, cats, raccoons, and other predators can climb the tree easily and eat them.

You will need to maintain your bat house for it to continue to be useful.  Every year in early spring, clean any wasp nests or other nests out of the bat box.  Repaint it every three to five years with the same kind of paint you used the first time you painted it.

Where you have bats, you will have guano (bat poop).  You should clean the area under the bat house on a regular basis to prevent a buildup of guano below your bat house.  You can compost the guano to create a nice, organic, fertilizer with lots of nitrogen in it.

People sometimes ask if they can purchase bats for their bat house the way you purchase lay bugs for your garden.  It is illegal to buy or sell bats, so you cannot purchase them to put in your house.  You will have to attract them by giving them the proper shelter, food, and water instead.  If your bat house has been up more than two years without bats, you should relocate your house or build another one with a different design.

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