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  • Shannon Carnevale

Greetings, Brave Souls of the Neighborhood

As the twilight of the spooky season creeps upon us, the air fills with whispers and rustles - not from wandering spirits but from our mysterious nocturnal neighbors embarking on their nightly flights. 

Yes, we’re talking about the bats, those silent acrobats of the night sky, dancing their eerie ballet as darkness falls. While they have often been associated with tales of the supernatural, bats are truly fascinating creatures that hold secrets and wonders in their wings. Let’s unveil the mystique that surrounds these creatures and discover how we can protect and appreciate them right here in our community.



BUSTING BAT MYTHS


Before we fly further, it’s time to bust some common myths that have haunted the reputation of bats for ages. Contrary to the sinister roles they often play in spooky tales, bats are not rodents or creatures to fear. They belong to the unique order Chiroptera, which translates to “hand-wing.” This not only grants them the gift of true flight but also allows them to perform gravity-defying acts of hanging upside-down effortlessly.


The three most common bat myths that people ask me about:

Vampire Bats are out to get me! Not to worry. Vampire bats are 100% real, and do feast on mammal blood. The good news, is they are not found in Florida, or even the US Southeast. Vampire bats live primarily in Central America and the American Southwest and feed, gently, on livestock or mammals in the wild. Humans are very rarely considered a part of their diet, and generally only if they are sleeping outside, cowboy style, under the stars.


Bats are a health hazard and should be feared! Bats can carry a few viruses and other nasties that can affect humans, yes. But, it’s very rare and avoiding that problem is so simple that there is no reason to fear bats in Florida. Most people are concerned about Rabies and Histoplasmosis, or Hantavirus. Rabies is the one to be most concerned about in Florida as bats are often one of the species with the most “positive” rabies tests, year after year. However, that’s likely because they are so easy to catch when they are sick! Unlike raccoons, coyotes, cats, or fox with rabies - bats do not become aggressive with rabies. They get sleepy and wander about on the ground, during the day. This is why we always say - NEVER pick up a bat! If they’re out during the day or found wandering on the ground, they may be sick. Call animal control, instead. The best way to reduce the rabies threat in the community is to ensure dogs and cats are appropriately vaccinated.


Bats are voracious mosquito hunters! While it’s a common tale whispered in the chill of the fall evening that bats are voracious mosquito-eaters, the reality is a tad less thrilling.  Most bat species in the U.S., including those fluttering through Florida’s night sky, prefer a diet rich in moths, beetles, and other flying insects, with mosquitoes making up only a small fraction of their feast. In Florida, the southeastern bat (Myotis austroriparius) has been known to consume more mosquitoes than other species, potentially resorting to this menu option more frequently on cooler nights when other insects are scarce. However, counting on bats as a formidable line of defense against larger mosquito populations might be a bit of a Halloween myth. 


WHY BATS MATTER


Amidst the shadowy tales, the vital role bats play in our ecosystem often gets overlooked. All 13 of Florida’s resident bat species are insectivorous! This means that all of the bats that call Florida home year-round (aka “resident”) feed primarily on insects. It’s estimated that 25% of the mammals on earth are bats and that 75% of bats feed on insects. Can you even imagine how many more insects we would have to contend with if we didn’t have this natural flying pest control service?!


These services are also very important to agriculture producers. Robust and diverse local bat populations are thought to be so effective at aerial pest control that agricultural producers may be using less insecticides in growing their crops. More research is needed before we can say for certain that this is true for Florida, but it has been documented to reduce the burden of pesticide purchases in South Texas and in the Mid-west. Bats eat a lot of agricultural pest insects including spotted cucumber beetles, green stinkbugs, and the moth form of fall army worms.


Bats contribution extends to scientific research, as well. Studying their behavior and instinctual skills is shedding light on diverse topics from mammalian hibernation to sonar technology.


TAKING STEPS TOWARDS BAT CONSERVATION


Despite their crucial role, bats face threats that have led to alarming declines in their populations. Here is where we step in. By joining forces, we can ensure the protection and conservation of these night-time allies.


Here’s how we can help bats in Florida:


Promoting Safe Habitats: Encourage the spirit of hospitality by setting up bat houses, offering safe havens for these night flyers.


Avoid Disturbances: Maintain the sanctity of their roosting sites, especially during the nursery seasons, to protect the young ones from disturbances.


Responsible Pesticide Use: Cast away harmful pesticides from your gardens, embracing bat-friendly alternatives that safeguard their food sources. Spot-treat pest problems when absolutely necessary, after trying non-chemical practices.


Community Awareness: Brew a potion of knowledge and awareness to share within the community, stirring more people to join the conservation cauldron. Bats are super cool, let’s chat about them more!

To learn more about bats, consider listening to the Naturally Florida podcast episode: “Spooky Season, let’s chat about bats!” or contact your local Extension office. Our Polk County office has a myriad of bat resources for the spooky at heart to indulge in. You can also look at resources from the Florida Bat Conservancy, on their website: www.floridabats.org.  


SPOOKY CONCLUSIONS


As we celebrate this season of mystery and magic, let’s extend our festivities to include our eerie yet essential nocturnal neighbors. By fostering a community where we live in harmony with bats, we not only protect them but also enrich our surroundings. This Halloween, I invite you to create a bat-friendly corner in your yard, adding a touch of nature’s magic to our neighborhood. You can learn more about building a bat house or purchasing a good bat house by reading, “Effective Bat Houses for Florida” by some of our experts at UF/IFAS Wildlife! You can read that document, here: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/UW290.

Until our paths cross again in the moonlight, happy bat-watching and have a spooktacular Halloween!

 

 

Have you seen some bats in Polk? Share those videos with me by tagging me on social media! You can find me @PolkNR on Instagram and X/Twitter

You can contact YOUR local extension office, UF/IFAS Extension Polk County, at 863-519-1041 or online at http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/P

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