VIRGINIA BEACH — Attendees at a workshop at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday, Oct. 28, built custom housing for bats, the small, flying mammals that – despite perceptions fueled by horror flicks rather than ecological reality – make for small, helpful tenants when given their own quarters outside.
That’s where the bat boxes came in, and Back Bay staff and volunteers, along with park rangers from the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, teamed up to craft the boxes — wooden homes that can be mounted about eight feet up or so, preferably on the flat exterior of structures.
Bats may not pay rent, but they earn their keep by eating pests, among other benefits. One small brown bat was once documented eating about 600 mosquitoes in an hour, according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Big brown bats can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in a night, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Bats have a variety of roles in ecosystems around the world, according to the nonprofit Bat Conservation International. They eat insects, including pests that harm crops and mosquitoes, and some are pollinators. Additionally, there are a number of folks who swear by guano, or bat droppings.
With only a couple inches of depth, the boxes seemed awfully flat, but that’s more than enough room for bats.
“They’ll be able to climb right in and latch,” said Max Lonzanida, a park ranger with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who works at the Eastern Shore refuge in Cape Charles.
Erica Ryder, visitor services specialist at the Back Bay refuge, said about 25 participated during the event, and another event may be scheduled soon due to the volume of requests.
The gathering also included educational activities for young people before they, too, built boxes. They learned about Virginia bats – red bats, big-eared bats and more. And bats are around, of course, even when people do not provide housing.
“We know we have bats in natural cavities,” Ryder said.
Among those helping people build boxes was Andrew Ryder, Erica Ryder’s husband and a volunteer. It was his first time constructing a home for a bat.
“I have never done a bat box before,” he said. “I have used a drill before. It’s a worthy cause. Bats are awesome animals.”
Virginia’s bats have a more varied habitat than caves, according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Depending upon the bat, they may live in tree hollows, under loose bark, or even manmade structures. Even holes abandoned by woodpeckers.
“I understand that they’re good for mosquito control, and we’ve got a lot of mosquitos,” said Jim Havel, a Cheltenham Square resident who attended the workshop and build a bat box.
He was not particularly fond of bats, but did he like them more than mosquitoes?
“We’ll soon find out,” he said.
Anessa Bernard, 9, of Creeds attended the event with her family, and she said bats are cool. She’s even seen bats in person before, such as at programs at the library.
She was glad to build a bat box.
“Because they don’t have many homes because there’s no caves,” she said.
Katelyn Bernard, Anessa’s mom, noted that the habitat for bats here varies.
“What’s happening to their habitat?” she asked her daughter.
“What’s the problem with trees?” Katelyn Bernard asked.
“They’re getting cut down,” Anessa Bernard said. “They’re losing their habitat.”
After the box was built, she painted it with a bat, stars and her initials – a stylish pad for any bats flying around in Creeds.
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