Bat visiting Woodley Park last year
Urban Wilds is written by Lela S. Lela lives in Petworth. She previously wrote about Tulip Trees.
I adore bats and have been thinking about how to coax more of them into our neighborhood. Growing up in the country, bats were a staple of summer evenings, but these days I rarely see them, particularly within city limits. As many as ten species of bats can actually be found in the DC area throughout the year, although several are migratory types, not permanent residents. Several of our species (including tricolored, little brown, and big brown bats) are being decimated nationally by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that is estimated to have killed over 6 million bats in North America.
As bat populations decline, we’re left instead with more insects that munch on us and on our crops (including that tomato plant on your porch). Most famous for their taste for mosquitoes – a single bat can eat hundreds of them in a night – they also eat prodigious amounts of other pest insects, including June bugs, Japanese beetles, stink bugs, and cucumber beetles, as well as moths and other pollinating insects. And all that aside, they’re just so freaking cute.
How to bring more bats into your life
In the mid-Atlantic, bats aren’t pollinators themselves, although they do play that role in other parts of the countries. But you can attract them by planting flowers that nocturnal insects enjoy. Try night- or evening-blooming flowering plants, like evening primrose, marsh phlox, moonflowers, four o’clocks, plaintain lily (a kind of hosta), and night gladiolus. Herb gardens with stand-bys like basil and mint are also good.
If you have a pond or stream near your house, bats can use it as a drinking source and will also hunt for insects around to the water.
Finally, if you have the space for it you can install a bat house. I always loved this idea, but we are chronic renters and have yet to find a landlord amenable to adding a bat hotel to the back yard. Bat Conservation International’s guidelines on bat houses suggest the structures be at least two feet tall – much bigger than the ones I’ve seen for sale. Have any readers installed a bat house and had anyone take up residence?
Finally – a quick word on rabies. Your chances of being bitten by a rabid bat are extremely slim, though it does happen. The DC Department of Health has guidelines on dealing with a possible rabies exposure here. Minimize your chances of exposure by never handling a bat directly, even if it appears healthy.