How bats became the animal of Halloween

My black cat would probably argue with me that there's no way the bat should be Halloween's official animal. However, my black cat tends to argue about anything that he disapproves of. Bats have been around much longer than domestic cats have been in the world, so I can smugly point that out to him and let him sulk. Fossil remains indicate that bats have been around about 52 million years, so they have a long history here on Earth. Bats received the questionable honor of being associated with horrors through Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'. The vampire in the book skinchanged into a bat when he wanted to move quietly and quickly. When Europeans first observed South American bats drinking the blood of cattle, they were called vampires, and that's how the association began.

Bats navigate using their high pitched voices

While bats have had the dubious honor of being designated a creepy, spooky animal, we should actually be thanking them for all the good they do for us. They are the only mammal that is capable of sustained flight. Bats are mostly nocturnal and fly at night, however a even though a few species do hunt during the day, overwhelmingly they are creatures of darkness. Some people claim that bats have poor vision and that is why their eyes are so small for a nocturnal animal. Bats actually have decent vision and their eyes are good. However, that's where the phrase 'blind as a bat' originated. Bats have a highly developed sense of hearing, almost a sonar capability. Their high-pitched voices bounce off of objects and prey, giving the bats a perfect picture of their surroundings this is called echolocation. This ability lets them catch insects as small as a mosquito while flying.

bats in a cave

Bats are beneficial animals

Gardeners should encourage bats to live nearby. They are beneficial on many levels. Bats are part of the pollinator system, just like bees, moths and other creatures. Some of them prefer nectar and others like to eat pollen. While in the act of gathering their food, the flowers are pollinated with the pollen left behind. They perform a vital service, as there are a number of plants that are at their most fertile at night and the bats and the moths are the only creatures that work after the sun goes down. Bats also produce a wonderful fertilizer. Their manure collects on the floors of the caves where they sleep and people harvest it. Bat manure is called guano. Guano contains high amounts of nitrogen which is great for lawns and shrubbery. Guano also helps control nematodes in the soil. As noted, bats also eat many insects and are beneficial predators of mosquitoes.

bat licking nectar from a flower

Welcome bats to your garden and encourage them to stay

Encouraging bats to your garden isn't all that hard. They do like a water feature where they can grab a quick drink while on the move and an abundance of insects. A place for them to roost is another great way to help them stay. There are a number of commercial bat houses that you can attach on poles or on the sides of buildings that they will use to sleep during the day. Unlike butterfly houses that butterflies won't use, bats welcome bat houses. There's just a few things you have to do to make the houses attractive to bats. They need to be at least ten feet above the ground, however between twelve and twenty feet is better. They should be twenty to twenty five feet from tree branches or overhead wires that predators can use to pick them off. You see a number of examples with bat houses attached to trees and actually, that isn't ideal. They need a clear area to drop out of the house each evening and a clear area that allows them easy access to roost in the mornings. There's also more shade than is necessary that prevents the houses from staying warm. The bat houses in the image below are ok. The trees are dead and the lower branches have been pruned away to give the bats proper access. Don't place bat houses on metal siding, as that heats up too much in the sun. Wood or brick is better. Even a pole at the proper height is better than putting the house in a tree. An eastern or southern exposure is perfect. Bat houses aren't hard to make either and there are a number of plans that you can download.

bat houses in dead trees

Give bats a helping hand next spring

As we celebrate this spooky holiday, let's give bats some well-deserved respect. They are beneficial animals that have some unfortunate creepy baggage attached to them. If you see bats flying around your outside lights at night, you can rest easy that you'll have fewer insects to plague you. As urbanization spreads, they'll have fewer places to sleep and rear their young. Encouraging bats in your personal ecosystem is a great way to do your part for the environment. Even the smallest acts can make a difference, so enjoy Halloween this year and plan to give the bats a helping hand come spring.