Bats may be tiny compared to humans but they play an incredibly important role in our ecosystem — by eating up to 4 billion tons of bugs each year. In fact, if all those bugs were human-sized, we’d need about 1/40th as much food per person every day!
By feeding on such large quantities of pests, bats help keep down populations of mosquitoes that cause malaria and spread diseases like yellow fever and dengue fever (which kills more people than any infectious disease worldwide). You can thank these winged vampires for helping us sleep soundly at night without being eaten alive by bloodthirsty bedbugs or getting sick from mosquito bites.
But perhaps one of the coolest things about these flying mammals is not what they eat, but where they choose to live. Bat colonies thrive around the globe in places like caves, buildings, trees, ponds, and over bodies of water. Some species hang out under rocks, while others roost in hollow logs or make nests inside abandoned houses or barns. The best way to find them is simply to go outside and look around. Here are some tips on attracting bats to your backyard.
1. Bat House
Once you’ve found yourself a nice spot near a lake or river, building a temporary home for these critters isn’t too difficult. A good bat house should have several key features including a high entrance flap so they aren’t disturbed when entering and exiting, multiple exit holes allowing air circulation, and plenty of room for the bats to move around freely. Ideally, you’ll want to place this structure somewhere away from direct sunlight, which could heat it up.
A common design used for bat houses includes two halves that snap together. One half has a roof made of screen material supported by wooden poles. There will typically be space between the mesh and the top of the bat house so the bats don’t suffocate after becoming trapped. On the floor there might be a shallow area filled with shredded wood fibers mixed with sand so the bats won’t hurt themselves landing or walking through the mess.
The second part of the bat house contains an interior lined with insulation and covered with cloth or nylon screening. Inside, there are often several dozen narrow tunnels leading from the main chamber to smaller rooms called “alcoves.” These alcoves provide safe areas where bats can shelter during times of danger — such as storms.
Since many different kinds of bats use bat houses, it’s necessary to install entry points specific to the type of animal you wish to attract. For example, larger bat species require openings measuring 3 inches wide or greater whereas insectivorous bats tend to prefer tunnel entrances slightly less than 2 inches wide.
2. Insect Nest Boxes
If you think hanging upside down in a dark cave sounds neat, try living in a hole just barely big enough for you to squeeze through. That’s essentially what happens to most adult female vampire bats who spend time hanging upside down in branches above ground level. And although the bats’ dietary preference would suggest otherwise, fruit is nowhere to be seen in their diet. No, instead, they feed primarily on nectar collected directly from flowers.
As you probably know, insects are extremely abundant and diverse. Because of this, bat species have evolved very specialized diets that allow them to consume thousands upon thousands of individual insects in a single meal. As a result, finding a suitable insect source that meets the needs of particular bat species can sometimes prove challenging. If you happen to live near swamps, marshes, rivers, lakes, streams, forests, or grasslands, then chances are pretty good that you’ll run across the right kind of bug.
Because bats rely heavily on natural sources of protein to survive, you shouldn’t expect to see them hanging around garbage dumps looking for leftovers. Instead, they hunt for prey along waterways, in open fields, and near forest edges. To catch the bugs they seek, bats employ powerful front claws, long tongues studded with taste receptors, sensitive ears and noses, and highly tuned echolocation skills. Basically, they’re super-efficient locavores.
So now that you understand why certain types of bait work better for certain bat species, let’s explore some options on how to put them to use.
There are roughly 400,000 species of plants on Earth today. Of these, approximately 80 percent are classified as flowering plants containing seeds, pollen, fruits, leaves, bark, roots and twigs. Although most plant life on earth grows from the soil, moss and lichens also depend solely on photosynthesis to create organic compounds. Mosses grow on rock surfaces or in damp spots, while lichen covers both dead and decaying matter.
3. Paddling Pool
This technique involves creating a habitat specifically designed to attract bats by providing them with a warm refuge and plentiful aquatic insects.
- First, build a pond deep enough to accommodate your paddleboat.
- Next, dig a 6-inch diameter circle into the bottom of the pond and fill it with gravel or pea stone. Then line the circular opening with plastic tubing cut into equal lengths and secured tightly to form a cylinder.
- Fill the reservoir halfway with water and add a handful of fish before covering the surface of the pond completely with a layer of floating reeds. Now wait patiently for the fun to begin.
- To capture aquatic insects, first locate a healthy population of tadpole shrimp, bluegills, whiteflies, midges, dragonfly larvae, damselflies, caddis flies, black flies, mayflies, beetles, leeches, crawdads, grubs, snails, worms, minnow, crickets, grasshoppers, slugs, mollusks, and cockroaches.
- Use caution when collecting wild insects from the water since doing so carries risks associated with biting gnatlike flies, mosquitos, ticks, chiggers, fleas, bees, wasps, hornet stingers, spiderwebs, stings, and venomous snakes.
- After capturing the desired number of invertebrates, transfer them gently onto paper towels moistened with aquarium salt. Place them in closed containers away from light and cold temperatures. Once you return home, store them in a bowl filled with silica gel packets or dry ice until needed.
- Next, set up a tent made of mosquito netting to protect against predators and weather elements. Hang fishing rods and hooks near the tent entrance to trap and collect flying insects attracted to daylight. Attach suction cups to the ceiling of the tent to hold a flashlight close to the floor to illuminate crawling insects below.
- Be sure to wear gloves and protective clothing whenever handling wild insects. Also consider purchasing commercially prepared traps to reduce exposure risk.
For additional ideas on making outdoor activities safer, check out How Safe Are Your Outdoor Activities?
Not everyone wants a whole bunch of bats showing up in his or her attic, basement, garage, chimney, shed, backyard, or garden. So here are a couple of alternatives to get bats interested in taking residence in your property.
4. Nesting Boxes
If you already have a bat house, adding extra nesting space underneath its exterior walls is another option for encouraging bats to stay nearby. Construct a cage around the base of the existing structure, leaving enough room for the bats to enter and exit via the original entry point.
Remove the mesh sides so the bats can fly unimpeded throughout the entire enclosure. Make sure the new nest box fits snugly inside the cage. Cut rectangular holes in the side of the nest box to serve as sleeping quarters for the bats. Add a piece of plywood beneath the square section of mesh to prevent the bats from falling through. Finally, cover the entire assembly with mesh.
Alternatively, you can construct a series of nested cages stacked atop one another to increase available cavity volume. Simply connect three or four cages together with hinges to achieve the same effect. You can also buy preassembled bat towers online or purchase readymade bat condos. Before installing either of these structures, remember to consult local wildlife officials to ensure compliance with current regulations regarding bat housing requirements. Of course, bats aren’t the only ones who appreciate a cool shady retreat.
5. Tents & Canopies
If you’re seeking an alternative for attracting bats to your property but you don’t want them living in your backyard, consider constructing a small canvas tent or canopy on your patio or deck. To achieve this effect, simply purchase a canvas or vinyl tarp measuring 6 feet wide by 8 feet long and at least 3 yards high. Drape this fabric over an existing structure like a picnic table or bistro set. Attach it at least 3 feet off the ground using strong zip ties or heavy-duty rope.
6. Wicker Baskets
For those who prefer a more natural look and feel, wicker baskets also make attractive bat houses. This alternative is particularly appropriate for those who live in humid climates where wooden structures may be susceptible to moisture damage. Use any number of wicker baskets measuring 6 inches wide by 8 inches high and at least 15 inches deep. Then secure them with sturdy zip ties or heavy-duty rope. You can also purchase preassembled wicker nests online or in some garden supply stores.
7. Hanging Mist Nets
Some homeowners who want to attract both mosquitoes and bats opt to construct hanging nets that are suspended from trees and shrubs by thick ropes or chains. These nets help ensure that bats can take advantage of their natural insect-eating capabilities without flying into any dangerous areas where they might collide with people, automobiles, or other objects in the surrounding environment. For best results, hang these nets from tall trees that are positioned at least 30 feet away from buildings and other structures where people live and work.
8. Mossy Trees & Frog Ponds
For those who want to encourage the presence of bats on their property but who don’t want to install any permanent structures, a mossy tree is another attractive option. These trees, which are native to North America, feature distinctive horizontal branches that grow close together and form a dense canopy that’s ideal for sheltering insects and other small creatures. The presence of these shady oases encourages bats to hang out nearby in search of shelter from the sun’s rays and predators.