Contrary to popular opinion, bats are not winged mice; in fact, they aren’t rodents at all but members of the taxonomic order Chiroptera (meaning hand-wing). Bats are unique in that they are the only mammals capable of flight. There are thirteen species of bats that call Florida home year-round, seven additional species are occasionally found in the northernmost and southernmost ends of the state. When left to their own devices, bats will colonize caves or natural crevices, depending on the species. Unfortunately, habitat destruction and human activity in caves has forced many bats to take up residence in alternative locations. Bats can squeeze through tiny openings to colonize human occupied buildings and homes. Their movement and noise, combined with the natural odor of their droppings, can combine to make them less than ideal housemates. Excluding bats from buildings is the only legal way to evict them. Exclusion methods can only be used from August 15th through April 15th. Bats give birth to their young during the warmer months and excluding adult bats during this time may result in babies being left behind.
While you may not want bats in your attic, there are lots of good reasons to want them nearby. Bats have a voracious appetite and have been known to eat up to 2/3 of their body weight per day. No need to cover your necks, Florida bats eat insects, nectar, and pollen. Bats are an important part of the ecosystem, and a friend to farmers. They have been known to reduce populations of harmful insects in farming communities, thus lessening the need for pesticides. A study in South Texas estimated that bats saved local cotton farmers an average of $741,000! The mere presence of bats in an ecosystem can be enough to scare off insects making bats an effective, safe, and natural form of pest prevention.
How can you attract bats to your area? Providing a specially made bat house, and then giving it wide berth, may be enough to encourage a colony to set up camp. Bat house construction makes a fun weekend project; the University of Florida provides instructions online at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/UW290. For the DIY disinclined, a list of vendors who sell pre-made and bat-approved houses can be found online at www.batcon.org. A bonus of attracting bats is what they leave behind, namely nutrient rich guano (bat droppings) that can be a boon to your garden!
What should you do if you see a bat? Appreciate it from a distance! Bats should never be handled as they are likely to bite in self-defense. Though rare, bats can be vectors for rabies and any bat bites should be reported to the Health Department and treated immediately by medical professionals. Sick and injured bats should be reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by calling 1-866-293-9282. For more information on living with bats refer to the following publications:
Bats of Florida http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw203
Insect Pest Management Services Provided by Bats http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw289