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Bats benefit gardens

Q: I’ve heard that bats are a gardener’s friend. How can I attract them to my yard but keep them from roosting in my house? Also, should I be concerned about rabies?

Michael S. Fox, Beecher Falls, VT

A bat box should be hung in early spring. Where to site it depends on your location. A bat box should be hung in early spring. Where to site it depends on your location. Photo/Illustration: courtesy of GardenBuilt

A: Jennifer Pinkley, a member of Bat Conservation International and a science writer, responds: Attracting bats to your yard is easy and inexpensive: Buy or build a bat box. These simple wooden structures provide a place for bats to sleep during the day. You can likely find one at a garden center. There are some  tricks to attracting bats to your new box. First, install the box early in spring, when flightless young bats are not present. Next, you need to know what color to paint the box, whether to locate it in sun or shade, and at what height to install it. The color and location will be based on your area’s average July temperatures. To find the optimal conditions, visit the Web site of Bat Con­servation International (www.batcon.org).

To keep bats out of your house, inspect your home and make sure all possible entrances are sealed with caulk or mesh. Bats can fit through a 1/2-inch-diameter opening.

Encountering a bat with rabies is rare. Make sure your children know that they should never touch or handle any wild animal. If you happen to see a bat behaving strangely—sitting on the ground in the middle of the day, for example—call your local animal-control center. There are no other diseases you should worry about with bats. In fact, they actually help control mosquito-borne illnesses by eating hundreds or even thousands of pesky insects every night. Bats truly are one of nature’s best pest controls.

From Fine Gardening 114, pp. 24