By Bev Johnson
If you try to avoid the heat of a hot summer by gardening in the early morning or just before dusk, you have met one of the scourges of a Minnesota summer; mosquitoes. They are so big this summer they have to file a flight plan. When you come in you feel like you’ve been to the blood bank but got cheated out of the coffee and cookies. Since you can’t avoid them, you can at least reduce their numbers by encouraging the world’s best mosquito killer; bats. Many people feel like Erma Bombeck does. She says “bats are engineered wrong. They never stand on their feet like normal mammals. And any mother with nipples in her armpits just isn’t thinking.”
OK, so they aren’t cute and cuddly. Actually when they fly past they look like a dirty rag blowing in the wind. That’s the bad side. On the good side they eat up to 1,200 small insects in an hour, and half of them are mosquitoes. So what about bats being rabid? Only ½ of 1 percent of bats are rabid. They only bite in self defense and even then pose little threat to those who handle them. They do not get in your hair! Their radar prevents them from running into as large a target as a person. They only go for food and hair is not considered edible in the bat world.
Here are some statistics from the D.N.R.; 50 percent of American bat species are in severe decline or are listed as endangered. White nose syndrome is killing many of them. Loss of bats increase the demand for chemical insecticides and pesticides that can jeopardize whole ecosystems of other plant and animal species and human economies.
Bats are the slowest reproducing animals on earth for their size. They have only one baby a year. So how can you encourage these little bug killers? Build or buy bat houses. The Extension office has plans for bat houses and many local stores sell both bird and bat houses. Bats aren’t pretty except to another bat, but the little bug killers look pretty good when they are gobbling up mosquitoes.
What about Purple Martins? Don’t they eat a lot of mosquitoes? Actually, they prefer dragonflies. The other problem is that Martins only fly during the daylight when few mosquitoes are active. If you are afraid of birds, don’t encourage Purple Martins. They are very protective of their territory. They will launch a screaming dive bombing raid on any animal or person they feel is invading their space. It is very disconcerting to be minding your own business, weeding the garden and suddenly hear a wild scream in your ear and feel the wind stream of a bird that has just parted your hair with her beak and then see her coming around for another pass at you. On the good side, they do keep the robins and Cedar waxwings from raiding your strawberry and raspberry patch.
Encouraging wrens to nest near your garden will also discourage these fruit thieves. Wrens are fearless, and will chase any other bird out of their territory.
It’s not too late to put up a bat house, or a bird house. They may not get used until next summer but they will have gotten a bit weathered and not have that “new house” smell.