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Karen Marks/Bat Conservation International

Bat-Watch With Your Kids
Audubon Adventure: Go Bat-Watching!
Want to see some wild bats for yourself? Go bat-watching with your family and some friends!
Here are some hints and tips:

Look for bats flying in the sky at dusk. This is the best time because it’s not yet too dark for you to see, but dark enough for bats to leave their roosts.

In the city, look for bats hunting around bug-attracting lights on streets or playgrounds.

To see a lot of bats, try going to a lake with woods on its edges. Stand so the water is between you and the sunset. The lake will reflect the sky and light up the bats.

Go on a bat walk sponsored by a nearby park or nature center. The naturalists often carry bat detectors that translate bat echolocation chirps into sounds humans can hear.

Never touch or pick up a bat. Though rare, a few do carry diseases like rabies, and when threatened, some might bite.

Courtesy of Audubon Adventures, an environmental education program for children in grades 3 to 6. Click here for more information.
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Build a Bat House
Want to enjoy backyard barbecues and croquet matches without having to use bug spray or buy a zapper? Consider building a bat house. Healthy bat populations can significantly reduce the need for pesticides, and can keep our backyards from being besieged by clouds of mosquitoes. Seventy percent of bat species, including almost all of the 47 that live in the United States and Canada, eat insects. A single bat can catch 1,200 insects in one hour, including not only mosquitoes but also beetles, moths, and grasshoppers, which cost American farmers and foresters billions of dollars every year. A nursing mother bat can eat more than her own body weight nightly. Many insects can hear bats up to 100 feet away and avoid areas where they are present.

A large number of tropical bats eat fruit and nectar, and there are three species of nectar-feeding bats living along the Mexican border of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. These flying mammals are crucial to the survival of many plant species that rely on bats for pollination and seed dispersal and that provide more than 450 economically important products, including food and drinks, medicines, timber, rope, dyes, and fuel.

Bats, which are closely related to primates, are active from dusk till dawn and often spend their days roosting in caves or buildings. The best way to attract bats to your yard (and keep them out of your attic) is to build them a place to hang out: a bat house. Bats prefer houses that are at least 25 inches tall by 15 or more inches wide with three-quarter-inch crevices for roosting. Use exterior plywood or cedar, caulk all seams, and use screws rather than nails. Paint the outside of the box with three coats of exterior-grade, water-based paint or stain, using dark colors if summer temperatures in your area average less than 95 degrees. Create scratches or grooves on the inside of your house for the bats to latch on to, then apply two coats of water-based stain.

Mount your bat house on a pole or under the eaves of a wood, brick, or stone building that gets a lot of sun. Boxes should be placed at least 20 feet from trees, fences, and telephone lines, and, if possible, within a quarter-mile of a stream, river, or lake. The best time to install your bat box is late winter, before the bats come out of hibernation.

Once you’re finished, it’s time to enjoy evenings out back watching your tenants zip and dart overhead, hunting for bugs. Throughout the northern United States and southern Canada, the little brown myotis and big brown bat are the most likely species to roost in bat houses. In the southern United States, Mexican free-tailed and evening bats are most common. —Daniel Butcher

To learn what bat house makes the most sense for your backyard, or to learn more about bats and their conservation, go to Bat Conservation International’s website. Click on “Conservation Programs” and pull down to Bat Houses. BCI offers numerous publications on bats, including The Bat House Builder's Handbook ($8.95),which you can order from the group’s website.
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Echolocation: How It Works
Brazilian free-tailed bats (sometimes known as Mexican free-tailed bats) rely heavily on a process called echolocation to hunt the moths that can wreak havoc on Texas corn and cotton fields. Here’s how echolocation works: From its mouth, a bat emits high-frequency sound waves that bounce off surrounding objects, including insects in its flight path. The returning sound waves help the bat visualize and pinpoint the location of potential prey, such as a tasty corn earworm moth, and determine which way it’s headed. The amount of time it takes for the sound wave to bounce back from an insect to each of the bat’s ears, reveals the prey’s distance and direction. All of this happens in mere milliseconds. The frequencies of the sound waves bats emit vary by species, and are usually out of the range of human hearing. But scientists have lowered the frequency so you can hear what a foraging Brazilian free-tailed bat sounds like
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