imgresWhen most people hear the word “pollinator,” and “pest controller,” the first thing to come to mind isn’t a little nocturnal, furry, flying animal. Nonetheless, bats and an often-overlooked species in conservation that perform vital ecosystem functions.

In Minnesota, the most common bat species is the little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus), however, there are seven total species, the others being the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus), Northern myotis (Myotis septentrionalis), Tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus), silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans), Eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis), hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus).

According to Ron Meador in the Minnesota Post, “Some 70 percent of bat species, including all those in Minnesota, are insectivores and consume massive quantities of insect pests. Bats may save Midwestern farmers between $3.7 billion and $5.3 billion a year in avoided pesticide costs.”

Normally, bat habitats are caves, tree hollows, and on the sides of buildings. The preferred habitat varies from species to species. As with many other wildlife habitats, natural bat habitat is threatened by the encroachment of humans and infrastructure. While some species have learned to adapt, others can benefit from some specially-designed accommodations: a bat house is a basic wooden structure designed to be especially attractive to these flying critters.

Bat houses—like bird, butterfly, and bee houses—are specially-designed habitats that encourage bats to come and roost in your landscape. Bats eat common pests such as mosquitoes, moths, beetles, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, centipedes, rootworm larvae, flies, and ants.

Giving them a place to hang out in the yard can help keep them out of the attic, where their droppings pose more of a respiratory health risk. Contrary to popular belief, they pose only a very small rabies risk, provided proper hygiene and caution is observed: don’t handle them, dead or alive.

Conservation of bats is especially important now: five Minnesota bat species are threatened by the recent epidemic of white-nose syndrome, caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. This skin-eating fungus causes lesions to develop on the face and wings of the bat, and can affect a 90% mortality rate in infected populations.

If you have bats living in your yard, you are better equipped to help with some important conservation work. For example: if you see a bat flying in winter (when they should be hibernating), report it to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, as it may have white-nose syndrome.

Incorporating a bat house in your landscape can help keep your biome healthy, while protecting you from mosquitoes, and your garden from pests.