Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Mosquito Control On The Fly

Silhouette of a bat in flight with light coming through its wings and lots of little insects flying around it.
Back in April, I wrote about ways we can bring pollinators to our yards. Now I am turning to mosquito eaters. In these dog days of summer, mosquitoes are the fun spoilers of our backyard parties, hikes in the woods and days on the water. Here in southern Arizona, our monsoons came late so we’ve had a reprieve for a while. But now that we’ve had some serious storms, puddles and water-filled crannies everywhere are turning into mosquito nurseries. Besides using some of ARBICO’s awesome and earth friendly mosquito products, I’d like to suggest you consider luring some voracious skeeter eaters to your yard. Specifically, bats.

By now, I’m hoping, most people know that bats have been falsely and unfairly portrayed in popular culture. They are not fearsome and malevolent creatures that go after people. They are more like Batman, really. They swoop in and come to humanity’s aid. Not by beating up the Joker, but by pollinating plants for us and devouring millions of mosquitoes.

A gray bat in flight with a moth in its mouth on a black background
Bat eating a moth
Bats are extraordinary insect hunters. Each one can eat up to 1,200 mosquito-sizes insects every hour. If they are out and about getting their bug grub on for 7 hours, that adds up to over 8,000 insects per bat! Of course, bats do not only eat mosquitoes, they also enjoy moths, beetles, flies, gnats and lots more. In this way, their opportunistic and enthusiastic predation covers insects that target crops as well as people. With their outsized appetites, encouraging insect hunting by bats around your home can significantly reduce the number of bites you and your pets will have to endure. And their droppings (guano) is an exceptional fertilizer for your garden.

A water fountain with containers of multicolored flowers around it with tall trees in the background
The key to luring anything anywhere is to have something it wants. In the case of bats, if you want to lure them to your yard, you’ll want to create a space that bats will want to visit. The most important things for bat visitors are water, insects, plants and shelter. All of these elements are symbiotic and together make a first-rate bat habit, but adding even one or two of them would be helpful and enticing to your bat neighbors.

A brown bat flying down to the water's surface to drink. You can see his reflection in the water.Water Being a bat is thirsty work. It is estimated that bats can lose 50% of their body weight in water in a single day due to their non-stop, high-energy hunting style. They rarely even stop to drink, preferring the drive-by dip and sip method (see them in action here). So, you’ll want to provide some water in an area or container without high edges that they can access mid-air and mid-flight. It does not need to be big, a little backyard water feature can do nicely.

Insects – Bats definitely need water, and where these is water there is also insects. For an insectivore, a pond or water feature can become a convenience store with one-stop shopping. It doesn’t make much sense to try to bring in bats to kill mosquitoes and then provide a space for mosquitoes to thrive in. But you also can’t be overly hostile to insects or all of them, beneficial and otherwise, will abandon the area. What to do? First, if you absolutely must treat for mosquitoes, use something that will not harm the bats. Natular DT and Natular G30 WSP are very effective and easy to use and is safe for everything but mosquito larvae. Whether you treat to control mosquitoes or not (but especially if you do), encourage native and beneficial insects to stick around. Insect-eating bats enjoy a diverse diet, so a moth appetizer with its mosquito dinner is appreciated.

A white Night Blooming Water Lily on a black and blue background.
Plants – One of the crucial elements in a bat and beneficial-friendly garden are native plants. Native insects love their hometown plants and will congregate around them. Bats in the area will be tuned into this and will be on the lookout for healthy clusters of these plants. So, plant native species first. The other option is to create an oasis of night blooming flowers that will attract nocturnal insects. Datura, Moonflowers, Nicotonia and Night-Blooming Jasmine are all beautiful and deliciously fragrant options. Night-blooming water lilies would give you the water ingredients and the insect attractant in one gorgeous setting. If you don’t have (or want) a pond, here is how you can have water lilies in containers. Or go all out and create a Moon Garden; it will be as enticing to you as it is to night insects.

Two brown bat houses hanging high up on the trunk of a tree. You can see leaves in the background.
Bat Houses
Shelter – When you plant native species, you are not just providing a space for native insects to dwell; you are giving native bats a place that feels safe to them. They may rest for a while or make themselves at home for extended periods. If you are interested in giving bats a more secure or permanent home, the only way to go is with a bat house. Individuals and communities around the globe are embracing the potential and installing bat houses. Before you take this awesome step, be sure to read up on how it should be designed, built and positioned in the yard. Bats are particular about where they set up house and will either ignore or abandon a structure that doesn’t measure up. Here is a document from the experts at Bat Conservation International that clearly lays out the criteria for success. You can also get a bat house from us here; be sure to read all the instructions there as well. There is a place in Florida that built one of the largest bat houses in the world in order to help an endangered bat, check out this interesting and inspiring story here.

Sparkly brown substance - Twinkle Turds gif by Joe DecruyenaereI encourage you to open your mind (and yard, garden or patio) to bats, but that does not mean that you should be overly friendly with them. Just keep your distance from them. Sit back and watch them hunt while you enjoy your moon garden and water feature; don’t try to interact with them. Remember that bats can carry rabies and other diseases (but not always), so watch wisely. And never pick one up!

On a lighter note, did you know bats have sparkly poop? I didn’t, either, until I read it here.

Submitted by Pam

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