Little brown bat

A little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) showing symptoms of white nose syndrome.

October is Bat Appreciation Month. Not only are bats (the fake ones) a fun decoration to add to a spooky Halloween decor, but the real-life versions are important to the economy and medicine — as well as providing natural mosquito control.

A single bat can eat as many as 1,200 mosquitos in a 60-minute period and that means they can eat up to 8,000 insects each night. This makes them a welcome addition to the backyard or the neighborhood, as they can help clear up large mosquito populations, as well as moths that destroy crops, beetles that eat your cucumbers, and flies and gnats.

There are 11 species of bats that live in Pennsylvania, and one of those is the Indiana bat, which is endangered both in the state and across the nation. The bat weighs less than half an ounce and measures between 3.5 and 5.5 inches in length. Its wingspan is 9.5 to 10.5 inches. The Indiana bat roosts in trees in spring and summer and hibernates among little brown bats in mines and caves in 11 counties in Pennsylvania.

According to information from the United States Department of Agriculture, one scientific study shows that bats provide more than $3.7 billion in pest control services every year, helping to reduce chemicals spread in the environment. They also help pollinate fruit trees and other plants that are beneficial to local economies.

In order to do your part in helping keep bats healthy and decimating the local mosquito populations, the USDA proposes building a bat house. Bat Conservation International offers free plans for these houses at batcon.org.

Bat Conservation International conducted a study of bat houses purchased or constructed and installed in the northern third of the US and found that houses that were located within a quarter mile of a stream or river (or a lake larger than three acres) and were painted or stained dark to increase heat gain were the ones most commonly inhabited by bats. Houses constructed for bats and placed within areas of mixed agriculture were also successful in drawing bat inhabitants.

Bat houses are open-bottomed structures that are built with widths of ¾ to 1.5 inches with a two-inch chamber.

Oregon resident Tony Koch, who has constructed numerous bat houses and has seen as many as 600 small brown bats roost in 23 of those constructions, noted that wasps are less likely to be attracted to the structure if it has ¾-inch roosting crevices. Rough wood is also recommended to give bats a better grip, and Koch recommends tilting houses at a 10-degree angle to help babies stay secure, although that angle may mean the house will need cleaning periodically.

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