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March 17, 2006
Scientists Offer Tips for Dealing With Bats
AUSTIN, Texas — Millions of Mexican free-tailed bats are returning to Texas from their winter homes in Mexico, and while research is revealing an increasing number of bat benefits, scientists say there are some common-sense steps schools, businesses and homeowners can take to coexist peacefully with bat visitors.
The bats return to the southwestern U.S. each year where they will spend the summer raising their young. Each mother gives birth to a single baby called a pup. At the first signs of cold weather in the fall, they will begin returning to warmer Mexico.
Research has shown Mexican free-tailed bats gobble up moths that lay eggs on crops, eggs that develop into larvae that eat cotton, corn, and other important agricultural plants. University researchers have documented that this can save farmers significant dollars in avoided crop losses and decrease the need for pesticides.
“While we are happy to see the bats arrive in Texas each year, they sometimes take up residence in places where they are unwelcome,” said Barbara French, conservation officer with the nonprofit Bat Conservation International.
“A few bats in an attic are not likely to be a problem, but bats should not be allowed to enter interior living or working quarters. When necessary, bats can be safely evicted from buildings using proper bat exclusion methods. Openings used by bats to exit the building can be fitted with a valve, generally a simple smooth tube or netting through which bats are able to exit but not re-enter the building. Valves should be left in place for one week to make certain all bats have gotten out, and then openings can be permanently sealed shut,” French said.
Proper bat exclusion techniques protect both people and the bats. For more information about proper bat exclusion techniques, see the Bat Conservation International Web site, click on “projects” and then “bats in buildings.”
“If you want to keep these voracious insect predators around, you can install a bat house near the place they are living before evicting them,” said Meg Goodman, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department bat biologist. “When the bats are unable to get back into the building, they will have an alternative roost.”
Building bat houses is a great project for schools and Scout troops, Goodman said. Wood shop classes can get involved and once the bat house is installed, classes can observe the bats and monitor their own bat colony. For more information about bat houses, visit BCI’s Web site under “projects” then “bat houses.”
While it is true that some animals, including bats, contract rabies, Goodman said people should keep this in perspective. She said less than one half of one percent of bats in natural populations get rabies.
“But always be safe,” Goodman emphasized. “Do not handle bats, and educate children about the dangers of approaching any wild animal.”
Mexican free-tailed bats form large colonies in bridges and caves throughout the southwest and make spectacular nightly emergences in the summer.
Texans are proud of their unique bat colonies. For more information about when and where to see bat emergences, visit the BCI Web site under “Discover” then “Texas Viewing” or see the TPWD Web site Nature pages.
Property owners or managers, schoolteachers and others may contact Barbara French at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 327-9721 or Meg Goodman at email@example.com or (512) 912-7042.
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