Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bats are the new Bees

My first experience with a live bat was so ridiculously embarrassing that I can't believe I am going to retell the story here.  I was a freshman in college living in a dorm.  I happened to look out my window and down toward the ground and saw an adorable, furry, little creature hanging on the side of the stone wall.  I was immediately panicked.  I thought somebody's hamster had gotten loose and was clinging to life, literally, on the outside of the building.  Being an animal lover, I immediately switched into hyper-active-rescue-mode.  I began calling for help, begging someone to get on the ground underneath the poor desperate animal in case it fell.  People starting hovering.  What is it?  An animal?  A hamster?  Someone's hamster got out?  It's clinging to life on the wall?  Chaos.  Then, someone, I have blocked it from memory because it is utterly humiliating don't even remember who, but someone with more experience than me, looked out the window, down, and laughed.  Loudly.  I was told, "It's a BAT!  They are supposed to hang on walls like that!"  Right.  I knew that.  Duh.  Just kidding everybody!  Made ya look!

Truth is, I didn't know.  I had never seen a bat before.  And, it didn't look anything like the creatures of my imagination from any of the scary stories I had heard about bats, the blood-sucking vampires who get tangled up in your hair and spread diseases.  This thing was cute.  Pet-grade cute.  I was immediately fascinated. Then, I quickly forgot.  More pressing things occupied my brain like parties classes and sorority events homework (okay, okay, and BOYS).

Until last summer.  I spent a lot of time in the garden last summer.  I found my favorite time to be in the garden was after dinner, right before dusk.  I would take to the garden and just be there to unwind for a bit.  When I say "a bit" I do mean "a bit" because it wasn't long until I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes.  Oh my stars, they were everywhere!  Being an organic gardener, I knew I would not just head out there with some spray in an attempt to resolve the problem.  Does such a spray even exist?  I have no idea.  Regardless, I had to find another way.  In numerous Google searches, I kept getting links for the same thing- Bats.  It didn't take me long to take the hint and begin researching the tiniest of mammals.  My fascination was re-ignited.

Fascinating facts about bats:
  • Bats are the primary predators of many damaging pests.  In fact, a single little brown bat can consume 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in one hour.  One bat, 1,000 insects, one hour.  Wow!
  • Bats are pollinators.  If you like bananas, avocados, mangoes, dates, figs, peaches or cashews, you should thank bats.  These foods depend on bats for pollination.
  • Bat droppings (guano) are a valuable, natural fertilizer.  Guano contains essential elements necessary for healthy plant growth in addition to adding healthy microbials to your soil.  These microbials work to control fungus and nematodes. 
  • Bats are doing their part to keep your grocery bill down.  The work that bats do to eat pests that harm food crops reduces the farmer's need to use pesticides.  This, in turn, reduces the cost we pay for the food.  In fact, some estimate that bats save US farmers $3 billion a year in reduced pesticide costs.

In short, bats are overlooked, under-appreciated heroes.  They do great things for you and I every single day and we don't even realize it.  You might be asking yourself, "What does any of this have to do with bees?"  Well, it is simple. Like bees, bats are dying in huge numbers.  Entire colonies are being wiped out.  It's in the news.  It feels like there is a new article written about this every day, each of them equally terrible.  Like, this one.  Or, this one.  Or any of these.  But, do we really pay attention?  Do we even realize what this means?

If this stirs you into action, then consider one of these steps:

  1. Vote for Bat Conservation International --> Disney's Friends for Change: Project Green.  
  2. Adopt a Bat --> Your contribution helps BCI protect and preserve bats.
  3. Make a donation --> Fund research and education projects
  4. Give to save bat habitats --> The Nature Conservancy and The Sierra Club work to save natural bat habitats.
  5. Install a bat house --> Give a bat a home.  Certified bat house vendors by state are listed here.  In Dunwoody, we have a local craftsman who makes beautiful bat houses -->  Workshop Creations, Robert May.  I bought my bat house from him and it is beautifully constructed. 
  6. If you are concerned about installing a bat house on your property, consider placing bat houses in your neighborhood or gifting a bat house to a local park or nature preserve.   Robert told me that he has worked with neighborhoods to identify locations within the neighborhood where they can place bat houses for the benefit of all the residents and the bats, of course.
My bat house which was made by local craftsman, Robert May of Workshop Creations, Dunwoody, Ga.

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