As a general rule, bats aren’t the most beloved of creatures, and most people aren’t all that thrilled to see them hanging around the house. Stories of Dracula and vampires have tarnished their reputation, turning bats into blood-sucking creatures, though the majority are not. Rabies further smeared their good name, but the truth of the matter is that most bats, despite what we’ve been led to believe, never contract the disease.
As a general rule, in fact, bats are really not all that bad. When it comes to gardens, bats are downright beneficial to have around. They play a vital role in the ecosystem, participating in all sorts of natural cycles. They interact with other animals, they interact with plants, and they interact with the soil. By and large, all of these batty interactions are advantageous to what we, the humans, are trying to get done.
Bats Increase Biodiversity
Biodiversity has become a gardening buzzword, and while it is often used in reference to plants, having a variety of animals is just as important. There are over 1300 species of bats in the world, the second largest family of mammals. They vary in size, from wingspans of half of foot to six feet wide, and they live on all continents (with the exception of Antarctica).
With such a huge variety of bat species, there aren’t just different sizes, but also different living preferences, physical attributes, and feeding tendencies. In other words, when bats are on the scene, there is bound to be more biodiversity in the garden, and they generally aren’t big competitors with the other animals.
Bats Exterminate Pests
When we say bats don’t compete with other animals, we can’t include insects. Bats are amazing insect hunters, capable of eating a quarter of their own weight in insects every night. That’s a lot of bugs. What’s more is that they particularly like moths and other insects that seem to cause problems for plants.
Bats are renowned for lessening the need for pesticides and are a true friend to farmers. They are documented to eat the pests that feed on some of our most popular crops: rice, corn, coffee, tomatoes, beans, almonds, and more. For those of us doing it organically, bats are natural pest control.
Bats Pollinate Plants
While many bats are busy eating their fill of garden pests, others happily spend their time darting from flower to flower, like bees. Some bats are nectar-eaters, and like other animals — butterflies, bees, etc. — that go for nectar, they pollinate plants as they zip around collecting nectar.
Bats are known to pollinate up to 700 species of plants, including some favorites, such as mangoes, figs, avocados, peaches, and dates. In other words, without bats, our menus, especially plant-based desert ones, would be a lot less interesting.
Bats Cultivate Seeds
Some eat insects, some like nectar, and then there are just straight-up fruit bats, that like sweet treats, such as bananas, figs, palms, and cacao. After they gobble up dinner, they fly out and deposit the seeds across the jungle (or wherever), and from these seeds, new plants arise.
Bats, like many other animals, are great natural gardeners. By simply going about their business, both eating and defecating, they prime seeds for cultivation. They strip away all the fruit and the send the seeds down to the ground in perfect little fertile capsules.
Bats Excrete Guano
Organic gardens rarely get much done without a little poop. Often we think of manure coming from cows or horses, possibly chickens or worms, but the reality is that wild animals, too, can provide high-quality manure for our gardens. Bat manure, or guano, is amongst the best around.
Typically, guano has a great balance of our ten percent nitrogen (green growth), three percent phosphorus (root growth), and one percent potassium (stem growth), as well as a host of micronutrients (healthy growth). It also improves soil texture and adds a boost to its microbial life.
How to Get Bats in the Garden
With all these benefits being shelled out by bats, why wouldn’t we want them around? Luckily, they are easy to accommodate. Getting bats into the garden just requires building them a tiny box house to go in a tree or roughly 16 feet high and supplying that house with a little sunlight for warmth. They’ll settle inside it during the daytime, and at night, they’ll set out and get to work.
Lead image source: cowboy54/Shutterstock