Recently bat houses—like bird, butterfly and bee homes—have become more popular among the home gardener and hobby farmer. Bats are an often-ignored species in conservation, despite the fact that they are estimated to be worth $3.7 billion dollars to U.S. agriculture alone. They are consumers of common human pests and crop pests, Some species of bats are important pollinators and have even co-evolved with flowers. (Fun fact: Bat pollination is called “chiropterophily.”)
All that said, bats are sometimes risky neighbors to have. As with many wild animals, they can share and spread some nasty human diseases, which is a quality of which we were reminded in a sobering way during the most recent outbreaks of ebola in West Africa. There are most definitely pros and cons to attracting bats to your property; however, the benefits can be great, and the risks should be understood as worst case scenarios—not common problems.
PRO: Bats Are Great Pest Control
Bats eat one of the most deadly organisms known to humans: the mosquito. Mosquitoes, in addition to being maddeningly annoying, can potentially carry a huge number of diseases, the most recent example of which is the zika virus.
CON: Bats Transmit Rabies
Bats are known to carry rabies, though this viral infection can be combatted with prompt medical attention and only kills two people per year in the United States. Largely, it can be prevented by avoiding direct contact with bats, living or dead, as well as vaccinating pets.
PRO: You Can Help Their Survival
Bats are at risk from an epidemic of their own that has recently reached the United States, and this one can’t be transmitted to humans. White nose syndrome is a fungal disease that has killed an estimated 5.7 million bats in North America since arriving a few years ago, and in some areas has caused a 90 percent decline among certain bat populations. Providing habitat for bats can help them rebuild populations after these outbreaks.
CON: Bat Poo Can Be Contaminated
Bats are unfortunately known to carry another disease, spread through their guano: a fungal illness called histoplasmosis, which primarily affects the lungs. This disease is very treatable, but can be avoided by wearing a respirator when dealing with bat droppings.
PRO: Bats Are Essential To Ecosystem Stability
Bats are good for the diversity of the local life web and for the maintenance of food crops. They eat a number of crop pests, including rootworm larvae, leafhoppers, ants, moths, beetles and flies, playing a vital role in the ecosystems in which they reside. Conserving their numbers is a noble thing to do, and bat houses are a simple way to contribute to this project.