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Scott Rall: Bats and the houses that fit them

Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

Everybody remembers their first snipe hunt.

I was living in Laramie, Wyo., and was in the fifth grade. My brother took a rabbit fur lined glove and turned it inside out and told me we were going snipe hunting.

It was pitch dark and he would take a little flashlight and shine it on the fake snipe made out of a glove and whack it with a baseball bat.

Before I could see what was really going on he tossed the glove in a pillowcase and we were off hunting more snipe. This went on for a time, and a little while later I knew something was up.

It was all a hoax on the little brother. This snipe hunting exercise has gone on for generations and nobody has ever actually harvested a real one. The joke was on me.

There is another little joke that I have played on the unsuspecting gals more than a few times.

When a group of friends or acquaintances are visiting my wildlife area around dusk it is a common sight to see a bat or two flying around the evening sky catching insects. I, with the straightest face I can muster, tell the gals that those wearing a white top need to be extra careful.

I continue with the fact that bats are attracted to white and they might come and land on them. In more than a few instances, coats were retrieved to eliminate the chance of a bat using them as a landing strip.

I have never seen a bat land on a white shirt, but the myth remains.

A few months ago I was at a wildlife gathering at the Horse Barn and Hunt Club in Lakefield and they were selling bat houses for a mere $10. These were made from less than the best materials but were constructed by some youth in the area as a nature activity.

They were painted green and were about three foot square and two inches deep. It is, for all practical purposes, two sheets of plywood separated by several one-inch wide strips on three sides.

The bats enter the bottom and when the weather is cold they climb to the very top to keep warm. As the weather warms they move lower in the house to cool off. A good bat house is a necessity if you want to create an environment that is diversified and holds as many different forms of wildlife as possible.

Why would any one want a bat house on the wildlife property, or even in their back yard, for that matter? The reason is I hate mosquitos worse than anything and bats eat them by the thousands.

Bats are kind of in trouble, much the same as are many other forms of wildlife.

There is a disease that is killing them by the thousands across the United States. It was most prevalent in the eastern states but it is working its way across the continent. It is called white nose syndrome and it is lethal to bats.

Scientists are working on the problem, but at the present there is no silver bullet to save them. Bats roost in great numbers in close proximity to one another. The disease is transmitted bat to bat by this close contact.

Bats are common in Minnesota and the two most common are the big brown bat and the little brown bat.

The person who named these species must have been pretty unmotivated or really tired that day to come up with such boring names. Bats get a bad rap because about 1 percent of all bats carry rabies and there is also some level of concern from the bacteria that is present in the excrement.

Bats in other counties actually suck the blood of animals and even sleeping humans from time to time. None of these species live in Minnesota but their bad image remains nonetheless.

Helping bats is much like helping bees. Bees pollinate many foods and fruits and they, too, are in big trouble.

The bee colonies are dying from colony collapse disease and they still don’t know for sure whats causing that.

There are several species of bats that are being considered for the endangered species list, and this issue is causing great concern in northern Minnesota for the timber industry.

We don’t have a timber industry here, so the loss of bats due to logging is a non-issue. We can and should help out the bats in our neighborhoods and back yards.

If you have a spot with mosquitos (every square foot in Minnesota) consider putting up a bat house. There are free plans all over the internet and the cost to build one is minimal. Tack one on the back of the shed or on the back of the barn and this structure will be out of sight and out of mind and still be helpful for one of our favorite night-time flying friends.

I read that if you are having trouble with bats in your attic or other structures, putting up a bat house can give them an alternative to your personal residence.

It is recommended that you erect the house in the spring and then close up the openings in the house that the bats are using to get in. By doing this in the spring it allows them to find the structure or other suitable locations before it gets too cold and they perish from exposure.

Most folks will always have a negative view of bats no matter how much information or science is published about their benefits. Just like snakes, there is a deep-rooted disdain for many of nature’s most elusive critters. Whether it is bats, bees or snakes they all have a place in the natural world and the more you know about them the less afraid of them you will be.

I had a visit the other day from Dawn Madison of the Natural Resource Conservation Service. She was on a site where I am preparing for a pollinator habitat project scheduled for completion late fall and spring and was checking over my seed bed preparations. This two-acre spot is getting seeded with more than 100 varieties of native flowers and grasses.

When we finished that inspection we roamed the native prairie on a site nearby and found many unique things that this prairie had to offer. We talked about how diverse the prairie landscape is. I am of the belief that the prairie ecosystem is as diverse as a rain forest, but very few people ever get on their hands and knees to see it.

Bats are part of this diverse ecosystem and, as such, need to be nurtured for its benefit. Just as wolves belong in their native ranges, bats and other animals need their space as well.

It is easy to have a mindset that this animal or that animal is not really all that necessary. A restored prairie with 20 varieties of grasses and flowers is good but not not as good as one with 100 different varieties.

Diversity is the key to healthy wildlife systems. A native prairie might not live or die without a meadowlark nesting in it but it would certainly be incomplete without one.

Consider a bat house and make a note to erect one in a proper location in the near future. A martin house would be great, too.

The bats and martins will appreciate it and the mosquitos might just feast on you a little less.

In my book that is a win-win for all.