Out of the 1,300 bat species on Earth not a single one wants to drink your blood and they don’t share a family tree with Dracula.
Bats are often misunderstood but an extremely important animal here in Maryland, a state that 10 species call home.
Bats belong to the order Chiroptera meaning “hand-wing” and are split into two groups: Megachiroptera and Microchiroptera.
Megachiroptera are tropical bats, often referred to as fruit bats or flying foxes, and have the important role of pollination and seed dispersal, using their large eyes and noses to locate food.
Microchiroptera, the species we have here in Maryland, primarily feast on insects and rely on echolocation to find food.
The phrase “blind as a bat” is a myth as bats can see as well as humans can but use echolocation to find food in the dark.
Bats emit a high frequency sound and listen to the echo to determine the size, shape and texture of prey around them — even something as tiny as the width of a human hair.
Most bats hibernate over the winter in tree cavities and under bark — and maybe in a warm attic, crawlspace or under siding and shutters — and become more active as signs of warmth begin in March.
By April, they are active and feeding yet still can go into a state of topor where they will be sluggish, cool and inactive if the temperatures drop.
May and June leaves females looking for suitable maternity quarters to have their single baby — called a pup.
Most pups are born in June and early July and feed on their mothers’ milk for four to six weeks, after which they begin to catch insects on their own.
Male and female bats live separately during this time, the males form their small bachelor pad and the females set up nursery quarters that will house baby bats in all stages of growth.
Males and females won’t rejoin each other until September when they all start to feed more aggressively into the fall to prepare for the upcoming winter.
It may be unnerving when a bat swoops down way too close for comfort when you’re taking a swim on a balmy summer evening, but all of this bug eating is super important.
A single bat can devour 600-1,000 mosquitos in just one hour. Bats also find moths, crickets, locusts, fruit flies and gnats quite delectable.
According to Maryland Department of Natural Resources, bats provide more than $3 billion dollars in pest control services for the Unites States agricultural industry but their overall impact may be as a high as $53 billion with bats being critically important to the pollination of plants and crops and to the lumber industry as well for pest control.
Sadly, bats continue a sharp decline in population between development destroying habitat and White-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that started in New York in 2006, killing them.
The Little Brown Bat in Maryland is one species that scientists predict will become regionally extinct, according to the National Parks Service.
Taking this into consideration, many people opt to make their property bat friendly by using bat boxes to provide a safe place for them to hang their hat as they play the role of the worlds most effective citronella candle. Bat boxes can replace lost or degraded habitat and will most likely attract Little Brown Bats, Big Brown Bats, Northern Long-eared Bats and Evening Bats.
To make their new home most appealing the following factors are important:
• Houses should be about 2 feet tall and at a minimum of 14 inches wide.
• Roost partitions should be three-quarters to 1 inch.
• Boxes should be exposed to a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun, daily.
• In Maryland, boxes should face southeast or southwest
• Box should be in close relation to a water source
• Box should be mounted 10-15 feet or more off the ground.
Check out plans for different styles of bat boxes at https://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Pages/plants_wildlife/bats/batecon.aspx and https://www.diynetwork.com/how-to/outdoors/gardening/how-to-build-a-bat-house.