Benefits of bats include eating annoying insects, fertilizing and pollinating plants, and more.
In summer, as dusk arrives and the loud thrum of night insects begins to grow louder, you may notice what appear to be small birds performing acrobatics in the last light of the day, turning on a dime midair and swooping to the surface of bodies of water.
These likely aren’t birds—they’re bats. North America is home to over 32 distinct species of bats, the only flying mammal capable of true, self-propelled flight. These nocturnal fliers are often misunderstood, but play a vital role in our ecosystem and offer unique benefits to homeowners and gardeners.
What Do Bats Eat?
The diet of most North American bats consists largely of insects. Bats consume large quantities of insects every night, using sound to identify insects and the areas in which they are likely to live. In fact, a single big brown bat, present in every state within the continental U.S., is known to eat around 600 insects an hour every evening.
Many bats consume upwards of 70% of their body weight in insect meals every night. Bats commonly feast on pest insects that cause damage to our lawns, gardens, and health. Beetles, flies, and mosquitoes are frequent meals for bats, and a local bat population can make a noticeable difference in the amount of these pests found near your home.
Bats are such efficient hunters that their mere presence in an area acts as an insect deterrent, driving mosquito populations elsewhere to avoid these night hunters.
Do Bats Pollinate Plants?
Bats, particularly in southwestern U.S. states, play a key role as plant pollinators, transmitting reproductive pollen between plant populations when feeding. While bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies all feed on floral nectars and carry pollen between plants during the day, bats feed at night, visiting brightly-colored flowers for insects hiding within petals.
Some bats feed directly on nectar itself, especially in desert climates and areas where the agave plant is farmed. When bats feed on insects or nectar within flowers, they get dusted with greater amounts of pollen than bees and other pollinators, making them capable of pollination across more plants in larger geographic areas.
Do Bats Fertilize Plants?
Even when not actively feeding or pollinating, bats provide another key benefit to our outdoor spaces in the form of their highly nutrient-dense droppings, known as guano. Guano is an incredible fertilizer, and is used by gardeners and commercial growers for its naturally-occurring concentrations of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus (NPK)—all compounds needed in soil for plants to grow and thrive.
Why Are Some Bats Endangered?
Many species of bats are currently endangered due to land development and destruction of native habitats. Furthermore, many overestimate the risks bat populations pose to humans. While bats are capable of being infected with and transmitting rabies, the species of bats likely to populate human-inhabited areas have transmitted a total of eight cases of rabies to humans since 1951.
In fact, the CDC reports that only one to three cases of human rabies total are reported annually in the United States, including transmission from other animals like racoons and dogs. Chances of harm from bats are exceptionally low, while over 2,500 U.S. cases of West Nile virus transmitted to humans from mosquitoes were recorded in 2018 alone.
What Is a Bat House?
Bats play a unique role in our shared ecosystem, helping crops thrive and drastically reducing local populations of pest insects like dangerous mosquitoes. Consider erecting a bat house to encourage local populations to roost near your property. Bat houses are small, mounted structures often made of cedar, with hollow innards allowing bats to roost and sleep during the day. Many homeowners report noticeable reductions in pest populations after installation of bat houses, especially near wooded areas and bodies of water.
Whether you provide a home for bats on your property or appreciate them from a distance, say hello to these nocturnal wonders of nature the next time dusk arrives and the bats come out to play.