Bats used to fight mosquitoes

POSTED: 11/30/14 11:21 PM

St. Maarten – In an effort to control the island’s mosquito population, which has increased in the last few weeks, the St. Maarten Nature Foundation has launched a small, pilot project using bats to combat the increasing numbers of mosquitoes. This increase in mosquitoes may result in more cases of dengue fever and chikungunya. The foundation gave 4 private residences so-called “bat boxes,” which are supposed to attract more bats, the natural predators of these insects, to the areas in which the houses have been placed. Bat houses have been used since the early 1900s to help eliminate mosquitoes.

Of the 1,000 plus bat species, 70% are insectivores, meaning these animals feed solely on insects. Bats can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes an hour. Certain bat colonies have been estimated to eat almost 10,000-30,000 pounds of insects. Bats – together with other natural methods, such as using mosquitofish to eat the mosquito larvae – are a more natural alternative to pesticides, which can cause harm to the environment.

According to a Nature Foundation report, “Bats make up almost a quarter of all mammals, and they are the only mammals able to fly. They can be found all throughout the world and although they may not be the cutest creatures in the animal kingdom, bats are extremely helpful to humans in many ways. Many movies, television shows, and books have given bats a bad name. When many people hear the word “bat,” they think of blood-thirsty creatures that spread diseases, like rabies.” The foundation came up with this idea almost 4 years ago, but wanted to be absolutely sure that St. Maarten’s bat population was disease-free before putting it into effect. Once it was concluded that St. Maarten’s bat population was free of rabies, the Nature Foundation contacted private home owners, asking them if they were interested in participating in the project.

People often times fear that they will be attacked if they are outdoors at night when bats are present. This, however, is a misunderstanding of bat behavior. These winged-creatures swoop down to catch flying insects, not to scare you. Bats are also pollinators, and help to pollinate flowers at night. The Nature Foundation will be in contact with the volunteers of the pilot project to determine if the bats are helping with the reduction in the mosquito population.

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