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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

North Texas bats need landlords, since we've taken much of their habitat

Bats are cute little creatures that weigh about half-an-ounce, but eat lots and lots of mosquitoes – and they’ll soon be returning from Central America looking for homes. The bats in the north Texas area are mostly Mexican free-tail Bats (like those in the Congress Ave. Bridge in Austin). They cleanse the nights of tons of pesky bugs and avoid humans as much as possible.

An average bat will eat up to 5000 mosquitoes and other flying pests every night. In simpler terms, that’s like a 60 lb. child eating 126 peanut butter & jelly sandwiches a day. A colony of bats is a safe and cheap replacement for a lot of pesticide spraying! But those scary, misinformed TV shows don't tell you that.

Since a bat can hear four times better than a typical dog, they actually hear the mosquitoes’ wings. They also communicate among themselves and avoid obstacles (like humans) with “echo-location”, which is sort of like Doppler radar.

Bats also pollinate many crops. If your day includes soap, shampoo, cosmetics, coffee, toothpaste, margarine, paper, ink, rope, lumber, beer, candles, air fresheners, rubber, vegetables, spices, fruits, or chocolates you are not simply helped by bats – you are dependant on bats.

Less than half of 1% of bats have rabies. They are not carriers of rabies! If bitten, they’ll come down with it; just like any other mammal. And, being so small, they usually die within a day. Actually, you have a much better chance of getting rabies from a pet dog or cat.

Injuring, killing, or confining a bat is illegal in Texas. Such acts (usually based on ignorance and superstition) need to be reported. Specialty birding stores often sell different sizes of bat houses. Providing housing for a free-flying bat makes you a “sanctuary”, and is perfectly legal. Make sure the house’s design is approved by a non-profit, rehabilitation group. Now, before they come back to the north Texas area looking for homes, is the ideal time to put up a bat house, or for municipalities to promote what's almost certainly around already.

OWEN YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. His office is at in Denton.

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