Bats are vital to Wisconsin’s Ag industy, but the population needs your help

Bats are considered threatened in Wisconsin
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 3:55 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - For decades bats have gotten a bad reputation, specifically with fears of rabies. Experts from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources say bats are vital to the Wisconsin ecosystem and they need help rebuilding their population.

Nationally, and in Wisconsin the bat population has plummeted due to white-nose syndrome. Four hibernating bats in Wisconsin are affected by white-nose, including little brown, big brown, tricolor and Northern long-eared. Named for white, fuzzy spots that appear on infected bats, white-nose syndrome attacks their wings, muzzles and ears as they hibernate in caves and abandoned mines. It causes them to become active and sometimes fly outside too soon. They burn up their winter fat stores and eventually starve.

The DNR hopes the public will help bats by putting up bat houses. Bat eat enough insects to save more than $1 billion dollars per year on crop damage, making them vitally important in Wisconsin. In fact, they can eat more than 1,000 insects in an hour.

Paul White is DNR Mammal Ecologist. He said anyone weary of having bats as neighbors should know that less than 1% of the bat population has rabies. White said when he leads bat cave tours, people often tell him stories of bats swooping at them. White said they aren’t actually trying to attack humans, they’re just hungry.

“What’s attracted to humans? Well, insects are attracted to humans, what are attracted to insects? Bats,” said White.

They are already about 200 people in the DNR’s roost monitoring program.

“You go to the bat roost maybe at about sunset and then the bats start emerging and you count them as they fly out,” said Heather Kaarakka, conservation biologist.

She says without bats, farmers would spend millions more a year on pesticides.

“We have lots of people out there that have successful bat houses. They welcome the bats every year in the spring when they show up again and provide those pest control services,” said White.

Bats migrate for the season. When they leave hibernation sites they are very low on resources. Putting up a house for them provides a haven for them. In turn, this helps the boost the bat population. Numbers are so low in Wisconsin, that they’re currently considered state threatened.

“Bat houses are generally places where the bats are giving birth and then they are raising their young. It’s important for these sites to be warm because the mothers will leave the pups who are flightless for several weeks,” said Heather Kaarakka, Conservation Biologist.

If you want bats to choose your house, the DNR suggests painting it a dark brown or black and putting them 10 to 15 feet in the air facing east to get the morning sun.

If you’re interested in learning more about becoming part of the bat Roost Monitoring Program click here.

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