Bats: spooky creatures or garden helpers?

Halloween bat
Illustration by Connie Oswald Stofko

It’s Bat Week, time to raise awareness about the important role bats play in our environment and our gardens.

What you might not know about bats

  • All of New York State’s bats eat insects. A single little brown myotis bat can consume 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in just one hour!
  • The bat is the only mammal that can truly fly. (Flying squirrels glide, but don’t fly.)
  • Bats are extremely long lived, compared to mammals of similar size. The oldest documented one was at least 34 years old.
  • New York State has nine species of bats. Three of these species live in trees and fly south for the winter. The other six species spend the winter hibernating in caves, but can live in trees during the summer. (That’s another reason to include trees in your landscape.)

Threats to bats

White-nose syndrome

More than half of American bat species are in decline or already listed as endangered. Losses are occurring at alarming rates worldwide.

One threat in our area is a disease known as white-nose syndrome. There is currently no treatment, but the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, along with the New York State Department of Health, is partnering with researchers from the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, and experts at several universities across the country to better understand the disease and develop a treatment.

Two species of bats are currently protected under federal and State endangered species law, according to the DEC.

The Indiana bat, which is sparsely distributed across New York, is a federally endangered bat that was listed before white-nose syndrome began affecting bat populations.

The northern long-eared bat is protected as a threatened species under federal and New York State Endangered Species law. The current population for this formerly common bat is approximately one percent of its previous size, making the species the most severely affected by white-nose syndrome. Nonetheless, northern long-eared bats are still widely distributed in New York.

Human disturbance

Outdoor adventurers who visit caves and mine sites with hibernating bats can make things worse. Even a single, seemingly quiet visit can disturb bats. The visit forces the bats to raise their body temperature, depleting fat reserves. This stored fat is the only source of energy available to the bats until the weather warms in spring.

The DEC asks people to stay out of places where bats might be hibernating, and if they happen upon hibernating bats, to leave immediately.

Help bats & let them help your garden

Plant a garden for bats

Bats can help you because they eat many garden pests including cutworm moths, chafer beetles, potato beetles and spotted cucumber beetles, according to BatsLive: A Distance Learning Adventure. Bat guano is also a great fertilizer.

To encourage bats to feed in your garden, choose plants that attract nighttime pollinators, such as moths. These include flowers that bloom late in the day or give off a scent at night. See a list of plants here.

Build a bat house

Another way to attract bats to your landscape is to provide them with shelter. Learn how to build a bat house here.

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