Bats are nature’s pest control agents


By Nan Smith | 11 July 2017
An epauletted fruit bat roosts in the roof of a restaurant in the Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga Province, South Africa. Fruit bats are pollinators and seed dispersers and play a crucial role in ecosystems. Picture : Bernard Dupont

Insect-eating bats can eat insects equivalent to their own body weight in one night. They are certainly worth conserving, as they provide farmers with a free resource worth millions of dollars, season after season.

Californian farmers lead the way when it comes to farming with bats. They have long recognised that they cannot afford to go without them in pest management, says conservation journalist Lucille Botha. In spite of the benefits and services bats render humanity, they suffer persecution and interference in many parts of the world, says Lucille.

BATS EAT TONS OF INSECTS

Night-fliers themselves, bats eat night-flying insects many of which are crop pests.

They are the primary predators of night-flying insects and play an important role in controlling insect populations, says Bat Conservation International (BCI). And in the African sub-region they may have added importance to the human population because they have mosquitoes on the menu.

This could help with reducing the spread of malaria. According to BCI: “A single little brown bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in a single hour.”

In South African macadamia orchards bats eat stinkbugs, a major pest for macadamia farmers. The Egyptian slit-faced bat, mops free-tailed bat, little free-tailed bats, African pipistrelle bat and the yellow house bat were all identified by researchers in the macadamia plantations.

The De Hoop Cave in the Cape Province of South Africa is home to about 300 000 bats, a colony that eats roughly 100 tons of insects every year. A huge bonus for wheat and canola farmers in the nearby Bredasdorp area.

Scrotophilus dinganii – the African Yellow House Bat is an insectivorous bat that has been observed feeding on stinkbugs that plague the macadamia farmers of Mpumalanga Province, South Africa. Insect eating bats consume enormous quantities of insects and should be part of every integrated pest management programme. Picture: African Bat Conservation

BUILD BAT HOUSES TO ENCOURAGE BATS

Bat boxes (or bat houses) will encourage bats to your farms and reduce insect populations for a fraction of the cost of chemicals. It seems to me that small-scale commercial farmers are ideally positioned to use bats as an important part of their pest control programme.

As well as reducing input costs, using bats is friendly to the environment.

A bat house built by Quartus Laubscher on his farm near Hopefield in the Western Cape.

A South African farmer who builds bat boxes and owl houses, Quartus Laubscher, says it makes him shudder to think of all the poison he has used in his lifetime as a farmer.

“Bats must eat and insects are their food,” says Quartus.

What could be more logical then, to use bats to control pests? Reducing chemicals means reducing chemical residues which is better for the health of the consumer, and makes your product more acceptable to the export market.

 

Quartus Laubscher with one of the his bat houses.

FRUIT BATS

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declares: “Production of at least one third of the world’s food, including 87 of the 113 leading food crops, depends on pollination carried out by insects, bats and birds. This ecosystem service is worth over US$200 billion per year.”

That’s pretty impressive, and definitely worth thinking about when you feel the need to kill or harm a bat.

Fruit bats are pollinators of about 450 commercial plants including bananas, mangoes, guavas, avocados, figs, dates, paw-paw, cashew nuts, vanilla orchids and carob trees. They disperse the seed of indigenous trees, including the baobab, and regenerate Africa’s forests through their seed-laden faeces.

In Zambia, the straw-coloured fruit bats have an additional benefit as they bring in significant tourist revenue. Tourists travel to Kasanka National Park in Central Province, arriving between mid-October and early December, to witness what has been described as ‘the largest mammal migration on the planet’. Making their way across the region, from the forests of the Congo, eight million fruit bats use the Kasanka National Park as a roosting site while they feed on the fruit of wild loquat, waterberry and milkwood.

For details of how to buy or build your own bat house go to:

ecosolutions.myshopify.com/collections/bats

www.thehomechannel.co.za/bat-box/

www.nzg.ac.za/newsletter/issues/22/03.php