WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. — If your backyard is plagued by bugs, you might consider mounting a bat house nearby.
Bats, the world's only flying mammals, can hunt down 3,000 flying insects nightly. Nursing mother bats can eat nearly their own weight in mosquitoes and other pests, such as beetles, stink bugs and emerald ash borers, say conservationists.
These misunderstood creatures of the night are especially active this time of year. Young bats are beginning to fly, and the deluge of insects is fine dining for chiroptera. Their many talents, such as the ability to recognize other bats' individual voices, to use the Earth's magnetic field to navigate and to help through its bug-eating nature, is often obscured by their bad reputation as household pests or flying rodents.
"The young bats are flying about the middle of July," wildlife removal expert Jim Dreisacker said. "They're warm-blooded like us, so when the attic reaches 120 degrees they want to come down into the cooler air."
Despite the many beneficial behaviors of bats, bat-human relations are complicated when bats roost in your residence. Dreisacker, owner of Westchester Wildlife LLC and inventor of the Batcone, said summer is time to serve bats a humane eviction notice.
After bats have fully reared their young, and if they have had no contact with humans, they can be humanely excluded by using tapered tubes, such as Batcones. These allow bats to leave but not come back. Wildlife removal experts are licensed and can help seal possible entry points to your home against bats.
Although fewer than 1 percent of the bat population carries rabies, wild animals should never be picked up or touched. If a bat flies into your house, close interior doors and open a door or window for the bat to fly out. Bats who have had contact with humans should be tested for the rabies virus. This will destroy the bat.
Having a bat house set up near the location the bats entered the home helps them find a new place to live, an important conservation method, as these creatures face immense survival pressure.
New York State is ground zero for white-nose syndrome. The lethal fungus attacks bats as they hibernate in caves and abandoned mines, waking them up multiple times and depleting their fat stores long before winter is over, says the Department of Environmental Conservation.
This fungus has killed millions of bats and spread across the Eastern United States since it was discovered near Albany in 2006. The fungus does not affect humans, although people may unintentionally spread it when visiting caves.
Little brown bats, or myotis lucifugus, is a species especially vulnerable to the fungus. "Used to be 20 percent of our bat exclusions, and I haven't seen a little brown since the fungus broke out," said Dreisacker. Big brown bats, or eptesicus fuscus, are now the most common bat in the Westchester area.
"That's obviously a very devastating hit," said Dawn Vezina, an educator at the Organization for Bat Conservation. "Perhaps it could take 50 to 60 years" to replace the bat population, she said. "When you think about millions of bats' dying, that's millions of reproductive bats that are out of the mix to replace the next generation."
Bat fatalities from wind turbines have also recently concerned conservationists. The North American Society for Bat Research passed a resolution urging additional study of wind turbines, and a study was also conducted by the DEC.