Going batty

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal


When Butch and Patricia Gayle Jones married in 2001, one of the first things they decided to do was build a porch and patio on the back of their home in the Auburn community.
“I just love to be outdoors,” said Butch Jones, who will turn 64 next week. “We got us a patio table and chairs and the mosquitoes like to have eat us up. There’s hundreds of acres of woods behind the house and Elvis Presley Lake and Lake Piomingo are both close.”
The couple bought bug spray and citronella candles and mosquito-repellent smoke coils, but nothing worked.
So Jones decided he would put up a bat house and see if that would help.
“The literature says one little brown bat can eat as many as 600 mosquitoes an hour,” Jones said. “And they’re not just eating the mosquitoes in your yard – they eat the ones in the neighbors’ yards, too.”
Jones ordered his bat house from www.cleanairgardening .com and put it up on a 20-foot pole as soon as it came in. It was designed to house 50 bats.
For more than two years, Jones didn’t see any bats. And then one day in May 2004, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“We had planned a wedding outside here and I guess I was kind of nervous,” he said. “I was up before daylight and I was sitting on the patio and I saw something flying in and out of that bat house and that was the first time we knew we had them.”
In the meantime, when Jones didn’t think he was going to attract any critters to the bat house, he put up purple martin houses.
“But only 15 percent of a purple martin’s diet is mosquitoes,” he said.
Not long after Jones saw his first bats, he put up a second small house. And he saw bats fly out of it that first night.
“We’ve had lots of friends and family come out here and sit with us and watch them come out at night,” Jones said. “Around 7 o’clock this time of year, about 30 minutes after sundown, they’ll come out and they fall out so fast, it takes two people to count them.
“They’re also active in the morning, about 5:30 right now. The last of them come in about the break of day. It takes longer for them to get in the houses than to get out. They have to make several passes before they finally get in.”
More bats, more houses
In 2006, Jones put up two more bat houses on a second 20-foot pole. And again the bats came. In fact, quite a few bats came in the next few years.
By 2010, Jones noticed tiny bat babies, or pups, falling out of the houses and landing on the ground below.
“We had four small bat houses equipped to hold 50 bats each,” Jones said. “And we counted 250 coming out of the four of them, so we knew we were overpopulated. That’s why the pups started falling out. So, that’s why we got a big house that holds 600 bats. If it gets overpopulated, I’ll put up another big one.”
Jones moved his two original bat houses onto a pole in his stepson’s yard next door to make room for his big new bat house, which he purchased from www.batconservation.org.
“I wasn’t sure if they’d come to his house or not, but I went over there last night and I saw one coming out of one of the houses, so they’re over there, too,” he said.
Jones said he hasn’t regretted for a minute putting up the bat houses.
“Once you get them up, that’s it,” he said. “You don’t have to feed the bats or take care of the houses or anything. You just have to replace them about every 10 years when the wood rots. And you keep the bat houses up all year. You don’t take them down at the end of the season like you do your martin houses.”
It’s a good thing Jones doesn’t take his bat houses down, because the longer he’s had them, the longer the bats have decided to stay.
“The first two or three years we started, as soon as they got their pups flying, they would leave,” he said. “The pups are usually born in June, and four or five weeks later, they leave, and we wouldn’t see them again until spring.
“Now, they come in in February and don’t leave until Thanksgiving, when they go somewhere to hibernate. I’ve been told they go to caves in Kentucky. They have to hibernate somewhere where it’s above freezing.”
And the longer the bats stay, the more mosquitoes they eat.
“The mosquitoes don’t bother us at all now,” he said. “Believe me, the bats have taken care of those mosquitoes.”
ginna.parsons@journalinc.com

Bat Facts
• The order that bats are in is called “Chiroptera,” meaning hand-wing, because the bat wing structure is similar to a human hand.
• There are 1,105 different species of bats
in the world; 45 different species live in the
U.S. and Canada. The little brown bat is one
of the most common in North America.
• The biggest bat in the world is the
Malayan flying fox found in Asia. It weighs
about 2 pounds and has a wingspan of
about 6 feet. This bat eats only fruit.
• The smallest bat in the world is the Kitty’s
hog-nosed bat (also called the bumblebee
bat). It is found in Thailand and weighs
about 2 grams, about the same as a dime.
It has a 6-inch wingspan.
• Bats usually live between 10 and 20
years. The oldest known bat was recently
recaptured in Europe at 41 years old.
• Most bats in North America eat insects.
One bat can eat between 2,000 and 6,000
insects each night.
• Bats usually have one baby a year, although
it’s not uncommon for a bat to have
twins.
SOURCE: Organization for Bat Conservation