The Reinstatement of Bats - 1993-94

The Students: Matt McDonald, Ben Plehal, and Kenna Thomas

The Teacher: Clinton A. Kennedy

Awards: 1994 Seiko Youth Challenge West Region Semi-Finalist and Finalist - Reinstatement of Bats: Environmentally Sound Pest Control

Environmentally Sound Pest Control


We, the members of Batty, in order to form a more perfect environment, establish bat colonies, insure bat tranquility, provide for mosquito extermination, promote public awareness, and secure the blessings of bats to ourselves and our posterity, do create and complete this project for the betterment of our world.

Faced by the constant torture of those ruthless beasts, mosquitoes, finding a local problem to overcome proved to be no staggering challenge. Proposing an original, practical, and effective solution caused a bit more difficulty, but not of suffcient caliber to bring about our defeat. As we researched possible solutions, we encountered many means of eradicating our area's mosquito population. Of these prospective solutions, one revolutionary, "new" (new to humans, age-old to nature) solution seemed better equipped to meet the challenge than all others. We discovered that use of bats was, far and away, the best extermination proposal for several reasons. Bats can eliminate, or consume, insects productively without damaging the environment or other life forms (humans). The advantages bats had to offer were far superior to other solutions, such as chemical employment techniques. Chemical methods have often been implemented in other areas, at great cost to citizens, and the environment alike. Bats are an alternative to this perplexing problem, offering a solution that is not only effective and inexpensive, but also safe to our suffering environment. As we continued the process of adding to our imposing mountain of researchreading books, scientific essays, articles, pamphlets, and calling local, state, and national health organizations, it became more and more apparent to us that bats were, indeed, the solution for which we'd been searching. We realized how falsely bats have been represented, that they really weren't a public safety hazard, and so, decided on them as our solution. Thus, we began the involved process of doing the further research necessary for the project. We were quite fortunate in that were able to contact and actually speak with the world's leading expert on bats, Dr. Merlin Tuttle (a.k.a. Batman). We also attained a great deal of information from an organization known as Bat Conservation International. We learned that one bat can consume between 500-1000 mosquitoes per hour. What an efficient method of pest extermination, without the harmful effects or astronomical costs of chemicals! What a great effect bats could have on our area! Armed with our stockpile of intelligence, we sought the approval of our City Council for a "Bat Information and Observation Trail" which would incorporate the placement of bat boxes along the adjacent river. This having been approved unanimously, we spoke to several local business and land owners, gaining the support required to complete such an undertaking. It seemed that, as our project went on, it gained more momentum. The opportunities to expand our project and to further our cause came rapidly. We learned of a way in which we could promote bat conservation to literally hundreds of schools, through concerted efforts with the Idaho Pish and Game. We also began our "lecture tour," giving presentations on bats to schools. Finally, we had the opportunity to see our governor, Cecil Andrus, and to explain our project and propose a Bat Conservation Day. Unfortunately, due to our legislature being currently in session, time did not allow that the actual day could be declared before our report. However, Governor Andrus commended our efforts and placed Bat Conservation Day as a strong possibility at a later date. He, along with many others, realize the possibility and advantages of using bats as the method for pest control.

Reinstatement of Bats:
Environmentally Sound Pest Control

In the beginning there were three brave young amigos eager to fight the problems of the world. We weren't after aliens from another planet, or terminators from the future, we were on a quest to find the perfect method of ridding our community of mosquitoes, without the high expenses and dangers of chemicals. Mosquitoes have long been a problem for our area and some communities have turned to the use of pesticides, although our city budget (fortunately for the local life and land), has not been able to afford such action. We hope that the effects of bats in our community will be noted by other areas so that they, too, may implement this effective and healthy method of mosquito extermination.

In order to ascertain the perfect method for our attack, we had to hit the books. On our path to the cure, we came across many environmentally hazardous plans that endangered local species, including humans. We weren't too excited about killing ourselves, or any helpless animals around us, so our investigations turned to natural methods. The solution that soared above the rest, eliminated the greatest number of insects with the least amount of environmental damage, was the frightening basis of early horror shows. Yes, our little furry friends in the night sky, bats, were found to be our most effective ally in the fight against insects.

Our research started in the local library with books like "Batman," featuring Merlin Tuttle, the world's leading expert on bat conservation. This book was our first encounter with the realistic, practical and informed representation of bats, an encounter which destroyed their stereotypical reputation. We discovered that bats are very intelligent and hungry animals. In fact, one bat, using his highly sophisticated radar, can eat between five hundred and one thousand insects in an hour of nightly feeding. That means that in a single bat's twelve hour work shift, it can eat between six and twelve thousand insects. That adds up to a lot less little red bumps to itch the next morning. Merlin Tuttle, who is better known as Batman, has devoted his entire life to studying and preserving bats around the world. He has become so involved with these animals, that he can capture and, within a couple of hours, train them to swoop down and catch prey, using nothing more than a hand signal. This is a perfect example of how society underestimates creatures that they know very little about.

Many species of bats, besides being highly misunderstood and potentially helpful in our fight against the insect population of Idaho, are also considered endangered. This prompted our group to realize that we had the opportunity not only to save our community from insects while educating the public, but to aid a species that was in dire need of our help. With this in mind, we called Batman (Merlin Tuttle) and he directed us to BCI (Bat Conservation International) in Austin, Texas. When discussing with them the objective of increasing our bat population, they recommended that we build bat boxes which would conform closely to the ideal living conditions for bats. We requested and received the latest blueprints for the best possible brown bat homes in "The Bat House Builder's Handbook." After finding the most effective house plans for our brown bats, we investigated feasible locations and determined that the number of bat boxes we needed was sixteen. These boxes will cover an approximate twenty mile area, eliminating the need for harmful pesticides around our town and recreational sites. Each bat box of this design provides for a potential colony of up to three hundred bats, giving our project the ability to bring in forty-eight hundred bats. Our lovable and environmentally sound colonies would be capable of eliminating fifty-seven million, six hundred thousand insects in one night.

One of the sites we found to be particularly attractive was located on the North Fork of the Payette River, near one of the city's main recreational areas. With the help of Jug Engineers Inc., we proposed a written and verbal plan to our city council which they graciously, and unanimously, accepted. The plan included a bat observation trail that would enable people to observe bats from a short distance while enjoying the outdoors. The five hundred foot bat path had to match the city's specifications because it would be the beginning of the proposed Greenway trail that follows the river. The trail was completed two weeks after the plan was approved. The bat houses, located across the river on private land, are far enough from the trail to eliminate conflicts between hikers and the bat colonies, yet near enough to allow easy observation. One of our area's largest cattle ranchers gave permission for the use of his land in order to provide suitable bat habitat and to rid his cattle of annoying and harmful insects.

We felt that we were on a roll, so we started asking our local lumber yards and our local mill for material donations to construct the bat houses. We "batted" a thousand as we traveled from business to business, with each of them eager and willing to help aid our cause. All of the materials, including sixteen sheets of plywood, screws, posts, window screen, stain and other boards were gathered within a week. We then pulled our dusty saws and drills out of our garages and began the painstaking process of following the specifications and assembling the bat boxes. Bit by bit, they were cut out and put on our ''assembly line," where they were screwed together and stained for protection. We were very happy to get out of our work clothes and take off our foggy goggles when the final box was completed. Even though winter approached quickly, and the ground froze early, we were still able to get a few bat boxes up. Because of the weather, our local bats migrated south before they had a chance to discover and colonize our boxes. The remaining boxes will be erected this spring when all of the snow melts away. To determine if the bat houses are being used, we will employ pieces of ply-wood to collect bat droppings, or guano. Bat guano is the richest natural fertilizer known on Earth, and is worth approximately eight dollars an ounce. Therefore, if we collect the guano carefully, so as not to disturb the bats, we can earn money for other aspects of our project. We are expecting that when the bats return to this area, they will be extremely glad to find their new homes waiting for them.

We then decided to expand our plan in the direction of public awareness. We contacted Jane Jennings, head of BATS (Bat Awareness Through Schools), and started on the road to educating the public. We quickly became members of BATS, selling bat T-shirts and collecting yet more information on bats. When we had enough information to present a quality lecture, we scheduled five biology oriented class periods at different schools.

We hit the road early one morning and, by the end of the day, we had broadened the knowledge of a great many students. Our presentation included a ten minute lecture, a thirty minute BCI video about bats, and a ten minute discussion period. Most of the older students that we taught seemed to enjoy the program, and wanted to know more about bats, the Seiko Youth Challenge, and how they could help their local environment. We are sending these schools additional information about our project, and bats in general, including our bat house specifications, which several were eager to use. The students that we taught learned a great deal, and were really excited. However, we thought that it was even more beneficial for us as a group, because the best way to learn is to teach. With a million questions being slammed in our faces every second, we had to think fast, know the material, and be our own experts on the subject. The practice that we received from this will enable us to answer questions from concerned community members when they see the bat houses that we have installed. Future plans for us include a town meeting, instilling the townspeople with a deeper knowledge of true bats, and holding a day camp for school children.

Our community has always been pestered by mosquitoes and other insects, without hope for the future. No one has ever proposed a plan that would eliminate the problem without harming the environment, and our society members have believed in the saying, what will be will be. We set about trying to figure out how to convince the public to accept bats as they really are-curious, intelligent, endangered, and an excellent method of mosquito extermination. What we didn't realize was that community members were actually excited about our fight against insects, and most liked the idea of bringing bats in to do the job. There were some people who thought that bats were creepy and scary and that they carried rabies, but we hope to drive away these myths in future town meetings.

Most people don't understand the magnitude of our bat recovery program and how much it will affect the environment around us. There are many reasons that support the removal of our local biting beasts, and most have an effect on our lives directly. The first and most predominate reason to preserve bats is to alleviate the constant torture that every local faces when he or she takes an evening walk or goes out to gather firewood. Mosquitoes have no mercy and they will make a person look like they have a bad case of the measles within a matter of minutes. Using the statistics that we previously presented, it is evident that with the help of bats, we have the potential to eliminate millions of insects each night. With the help of our good friends in the night sky we can reduce the insect population, that has been able to reach unnatural levels, due to humankind's senseless killing of bats.

Tourism is another factor that will benefit from our project. There are many businesses in our town that will be glad to see the little pests of the area leave and the tourists come back. Many people seem to pass by us, not taking the time to enjoy our lake and recreational areas, traveling directly to the next town to spend their money there. With the elimination of these annoyances, the tourism industry, - which we are greatly dependent upon, will come back to us. Business will boom and money will be spent in Cascade rather than somewhere else.

Businesses like trailer parks and camp grounds will see a direct impact when our proposal takes effect. One trailer park owner, who's business is located along side of the North Fork of the Payette River, (a primary breeding ground for mosquitoes) has been battling his problem for quite some time. He has tried to get programs like beach volleyball started for his customers, but they won't show up because of the constant bites from the insects. If they do go outside they have to put on so much harmful repellent that it hinders the fun of being outdoors. This owner, Ashley Thompson, has eagerly worked with us and made reservations for two or more of our bat houses to put along the river near his resort. He is tired of having tourist complain about the mosquitoes and he is very glad that we have discovered a way to eliminate his problem and help his business thrive. Another enterprise that will profit from the extermination of insects is cattle ranching. Cows and horses are always having trouble with insects infecting their eyes and distributing larva in their ears. If this problem is eliminated it would save local ranchers a lot of time and money. The overall affect on our community is very righteous and everyone will benefit from it.

One of the major rewards of utilizing bats is the minimal cost required. Initial cost of implementation is negligible, and minimal, if any, maintenance is required. Bats are accustomed to living in old barns, sheds, caves, and even trees, so it is not crucial that bat houses be made of choice, expensive materials or be kept in absolutely perfect condition. Often, as was the case with us, materials may be acquired through local businesses who are willing to help. However, should this be rendered impossible, implementation is still easily facilitated due to the low cost of materials. The cost of this project is affordable for most individuals, to say nothing of its low impact on a city budget. The application of a waterrepelling stain will provide protection from the elements for years to come, simultaneously insuring that the bats will remain warm and dry on those cold, rainy days. After several years, it may be necessary to reapply the stain, a relatively quick, easy, and inexpensive process. The costs become even more reasonable, when contrasted to the astronomical expenses of chemical methods. Mosquito Abatement Districts have been formed, proposing insect extermination through chemical means, but have been shot down due to the detrimental effects that they would have on the environment. Previous suggestions would have required approximately five thousand dollars, per year, for the plan to be implemented and maintained This fact was reinforced in a letter (included in supplementary materials) from the mayor of our town which referred to these often unmanageable costs. Chemicals require constant reapplication to maintain their effectiveness, throwing money down the drain. With the help of bats, our city can eliminate it's problem without harming the environment or spending unnecessary funds.

Upon further investigation, we proved that mythical stories about bats getting entangled in human hair were highly unrealistic considering how incredibly smart and navigationally inclined they are. Merlin Tuttle once paid a woman twenty dollars to put a bat in her hair to prove that it could escape. The bat easily freed itself from her entangled hair and flew away unharmed. The belief that bats infect humans with rabies, was also disproved in our studies. The book "Batman" states that "Only about fifteen people in the whole of the United States and Canada are believed to have died of any bat-related disease in the past four decades. That's less than the number killed annually in the United States alone by dog attacks or from food poisoning contracted at church picnics." When we contacted the State Health Lab of Idaho, we learned that a mere 5% to 10% of the sick bats brought to them for testing carried rabies. This demonstrated that of all the bats in Idaho, an extremely small percentage carry rabies.

We contacted the State Health Lab and the National Center for Disease Control, both of which reported very similar results. We were informed that, in five years of testing, approximately 5% to a maximum of 10% were rabid. The opinion was given us, however, that these results were considerably higher than those that would be found in nature and that "there was something wrong for them to get there in the first place." Their method of testing is considered passive, as the sample bats are not a complete cross-section of the animals found in nature. While these results may be limited, they are the most accurate available, as random testing in nature would be impossible. To complete random tests, the captured bats would need to be killed. With as many types of bats that are on the endangered species list, this type of testing is illegal and unnecessary. The National Center for Disease Control also reported that "Since 1980, twenty to twenty-one cases of rabies suspected to have been acquired by bats were reported by U.S. citizens here or those abroad. Of these, ten to eleven were outside the United States. So only approximately ten cases were domestically acquired and only seven of these were strains normally associated with bats." The data is there, it remains only for citizens to become aware of it. This information conclusively demonstrated that bats have no reason to be feared and that they are actually the least dangerous choice for insect extermination. Bats are slowly but surely taking the world by storm as a "revolutionary, new" method of pest control, and gaining momentum all the while.

Humans aren't the only ones to receive help from our project. We hope to assist in the extended revival of bats in our area and move them a step closer to being off of the endangered species list. With forty-three species of bats in America, forty percent of which are either on, or candidates for, the endangered species list, our project should have a substantial impact on their population recovery. The restoration of bats will improve the natural stability of the surrounding environment, setting an example for other protection groups to follow. Bat populations need our help, and if we can instigate the overall assistance that they deserve, our project will be a great success.

People are beginning to recognize bats as one of those "neverbeforeconsidered-but-ever-present-and-effective" methods of resolving an environmental concern. To convey our use of bats as "original" would be a fallacy, as they have been denizens of our planet since the Eocene Epoch, fiftyfive million years ago. However, they are only recently being recognized by humans for their phenomenal powers to control insect populations, hence, they can be considered an original solution in terms of human implementations. Presently, few places encourage bat populations or recognize their benefits. However, as a result of extraordinary results in various places that implemented bats as mosquito control, the number of these places is increasing. For decades, bats have been unreasonably feared, and as a result, exterminated mercilessly. In our segment of the world, we feared the horrible creatures that always set the scene for a supernatural horror movie. Bats were portrayed as blood-sucking killers who attacked viciously. This image was further enhanced by impatient or exploitive photographers who would capture a fearful victim and proceed to hold it up by its wings, blow into its face, and snap a quick shot when it snarled in self defense. A 1960's study on bats indicated that bats were major carriers of rabies and could actually pass on the disease without getting sick or dying from it themselves. Further study proved this research false, but the public and most health officials heard only the original, sadly erroneous, investigation results. Bat populations were devastated by fearful citizens, as their "knowledge" grew continually more negative.

Among the few places implementing bats as a solution to pest control are Austin, Texas, and Chautauqua, New York, both of which have noted incredibly positive results. Reflecting on a visit to Chautauqua, Merlin Tuttle stated, "My hosts credited bats for the town's scarcity of mosquitoes, and I was, of course, curious to see for myself. For three summer evenings I walked Chautauqua's streets and enjoyed its outdoor amphitheater; sure enough, I wasn't bitten a single time. At dusk thousands of bats could be seen hunting, more than I have seen in any other town in eastern North America. The only insect I noticed was caught by a bat within seconds." Bats are extremely practical as combatants for mosquitoes and other pests. We found that, not only are they a good solution for our problem, they are the best. The efficiency of bats in exterminating pests is phenomenal! One bat can consume between five hundred and one thousand mosquitoes in a single hour. This may seem like an unreasonable amount of food for such a small creature, but it is justified. The insatiability of bats can be attributed to the effort they expend in flying around all night, and to their skin's extent and nature. Their skin is greatly out of proportion to the volume of their body, due to the great expanse of their wings and their large ears and nose leaves. The blood vessels of their wings are very close to the skin surface, and are supplied with a great quantity of blood. This results in a large amount of heat and energy loss that must be compensated for with the consumption of food (insects). A sort of paradoxical aspect allows their inefficiency of retaining heat to make them very efficient pest controllers.

Trends are beginning to lean more toward natural solutions to environmental problems, scientists and citizens alike having discovered the glitches in many of our man-made attempts. For years, humans upset the balance of nature, attempting to devise continually bigger and better techniques. Problems often resulted however, when the new methods were not researched and tested sufficiently before implementation. As we incline toward more natural environmental solutions, many of nature's original techniques are reinstated as "new" solutions, when in fact, some may have been around longer than we have. The use of bats as a pest control method can be categorized as such. Bats were one of the most prominent agents in controlling the world's pest populations before we foolishly began exterminating them and using questionable chemical means in their place. Now, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Merlin Tuttle (Batman), founder of Bat Conservation International, bat populations are on a slow but steady incline.

The goal of our project is to provide an environmentally sound pest control, by increasing bat populations. The effects of such an increase could prove monumental to our area and, hopefully, to our world. To accomplish this goal we had to educate the public about the use of bats and our bat house proposal. We demonstrated to others what our studies had demonstrated to us, by lecturing at various schools and at city council meetings. We demonstrated the fact that it will not suffice simply to realize that many species of bats are on the endangered species list, that we should preserve them, and that they really are harmless. We must take action. The impacts that bats will have on our lives will extend much further than the efforts we exert to bring them in. Humankind's duty-erecting simple, inexpensive bat boxes and then allowing their occupants to go, undisturbed, about their business- is an abundantly manageable task. Bats, in turn, provide for us peace from the incessant torment of those relentless insects without the negative environmental effects and astronomical costs of chemical extermination methods. With efforts like Bat Conservation Day and continued awareness discussions, we will assist bat appreciation and preservation, while insect populations naturally plummet back to tolerable levels.


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