Bats are benificial

Terry Lobdell is pictured holding a bat box. Lobdell, bat specialist, gave a presentation at the Woodcock Creek Nature Center to show the importance of bats to our local ecosystem.

MEADVILLE — They won’t necessarily suck your blood, but might eat those that do.

With Halloween only a few days away, the dark, flighted figures known as bats have re-emerged into the spotlight. These animals can be seen as decorations on lawns and houses throughout the country.

While the decorative bats increase in numbers, the real bats have decreased drastically. The Crawford County Conservation District hosted a class on bat boxes to address this problem and change the stigma around bats.

Terry Lobdell, bat specialist, calls the small wooden boxes bat houses, but they are really bat homes. With the change in landscape and destruction of natural habitats, some homeowners in the area know that bats have become more adventurous when it comes to picking a home.

As creatures that need warmth from their surroundings, attics, chimneys and other intrusive areas have become the new normal for the nocturnal creatures. One little bat box can hold up to 150 bats. Apparently they like to snuggle.

One way to get them out of your house, is to give them a house of their own. If you find yourself asking why you would want bats near your house, the simple answer is bugs.

“They only eat insects,” said Lobdell. “They love mosquitos and deer flies.” Lobdell has a large colony of bats on his property. They love the various boxes he has built for them, and their numbers have steadily grown.

His girlfriend, who is a wildlife photographer, said to him that his lawns are the only deer fly-free places that she can think of, and she spends a lot of time outside and in the wilderness.

For anyone wondering if they are aggressive or will go after their family if around the property, Lobdell has been swarmed by hundreds of bats who are hungry going out to find something to eat, and never had even a scratch on him.

“They are harmless. They even landed on my head,” he said.

Pennsylvania has two different species of bats —  Big Brown Bats and Little Brown Bats. While being very important to the local ecosystem, their numbers have plummeted in recent years. Loss of habitat, change of climates and disease have all been factors to their declining populations.

Lobdell also explained that bats are extremely important to both forestry and agriculture. Anyone who had ash trees is aware of the Emerald Ash borer beetles. Since their discovery in 2002, these little bugs have killed more than 100 million ash trees. These beetles are one of the local bats favorite snacks.

The bats are also important for agriculture, and industry that is vital to Northwestern Pennsylvania. Lobdell talked to a farmer who had his crops crippled by Hickory Shuck Worms. These worms would destroy up to 33% of his crops. Within a few years of having bat boxes on his property, the shuck worms couldn’t be found and his crops flourished.

Bats can be picky. It can take up to four years for the creatures to call the boxes you put out for them home. If you are interested, you better start now, as the sooner the boxes are installed, the sooner the creatures will get out of your attic and start being useful.

Lobdell gave those in attendance at the class a bat box of their own to take home, and armed the new bat box owners with the information they need to keep a successful colony.

The boxes only have gaps of a couple inches, but that is plenty of room.

“They just love crevices,” said Lobdell. Maybe the only thing they love more than crevices is heat — the most important factor when placing a bat box.

“Bats are attracted to heat,” he said. That is why 50% of all calls of bats in the home have something to do with chimneys.

When placing a bat box on your home, or on your property, the boxes are best suited for the South and East sides of the home, where they can get warm from the sunlight.

“As long as they are on a sunny wall, that is all you need,” said Lobdell.

The boxes don’t need to be too high up, and don’t require too much maintenance. Lobdell said that people usually overthink where to put up the boxes. These animals hibernate in caves and mine shafts. They aren’t too concerned about prime real estate.

This Halloween, when vampire movies and bat decorations are all the rage, Terry Lobdell and the Crawford County Conservation District hope that county residents are able to look past the negative depictions of bats, and see their value to a healthy environment.

Bats are important members of our ecosystem, and their populations are falling fast.

Remember, bats won’t suck your blood, but might actually kill insects and things that do.

“Bats are interesting to watch, and are more like cats and dogs than you might think,” said Lobdell, who challenges you to find that out for yourself, by giving bats in the area a place to call home, that isn’t your home.

Dvorkin can be reached by email at Gdvorkin@titusvilleherald.com.

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