Bats – A Pest or a Pest Controller?

Posted by Annie Hatt on 13/01/2016

It’s no secret bats are known, by some, as pests ‘invading’ homes and terrifying families. Blood sucking, ugly, diseased creatures often found in grave yards or swarming around haunted houses. Searching the internet, it is astounding the number of ‘pest’ control companies talking in this way about bats. In all fairness as an ecologist who surveys bats on a regular basis and completely intrigued by their behaviour, my opinion is a completely bias one. So perhaps looking further into bats and how they help us is a more productive method of swaying ones opinion of bats from ‘pest’ to ‘pest controller’.

Let me first explain the sense behind calling them pest controllers.  Bats worldwide feed on a variety of different things including fruit and nectar. UK bats are insectivorous meaning they feed solely on insects, consuming thousands of insects per night. In agricultural areas insects are attracted to the crops which, in return, attract bats to the area. The insects cause damage to the crops and as a result are known as pests. The bats, however, have no interest in the crops, instead they feed on the insect pests. This not only reduces the number of insects, therefore reducing the damage on the crops, it also saves the farmer money in costly pesticides. A previous study on the economic and ecological importance of bats to farmers, found the loss of bat species in North America could lead to agricultural losses in the region of US $3.7bn each year. Bats are known to provide a ‘pest control’ service worth £649m per year globally on corn crops alone. In Brazil, Brazilian free tailed bats are even recognised as a ‘pest management service’ in cotton farming. These figures are mostly due to the presence of bats reducing the need for pesticide sprays.

Fruit farms are a part of British heritage and are a much loved part of the Countryside. Often occupying the same site for centuries, orchards are a hotspot for British biodiversity, offering refuge for over 1800 species of animal, plant and fungi. Because of this fruit farms often run without the need for chemical pesticides, making them a great place for pipistrelle and horseshoe bat species. It is important to note without the presence of bats the insect control would reduce dramatically, thus allowing large invertebrate numbers to accumulate and cause detrimental damage to the orchard, and in return the farmer’s pocket. Some fruit farms recognise this and take measures to ensure the bats are cared for; providing them with bat boxes on trees over the site.              

So, as an overview, the presence of bats within agricultural areas minimises the effects of insects on crops, reduces the need for pesticides, saves the economy millions and they do it all for free. This is all well and good, however what about those of you who do not live in agricultural areas, this doesn’t help you at all. Well actually it does. By saving farmer’s money on pesticides the cost of fruit, and other products from other crops, is kept lower in supermarkets than it would be should the bats not be present.

Still not convinced? Perhaps bringing it a little closer to home will help. As already stated UK bats are insectivores, therefore do not suck blood. Insect species however, for example mosquitoes, do. A single bat can consume 600 mosquitoes per hour. So in the summer when you are enjoying a Pimms and lemonade in the garden of an evening, would you rather be eaten alive by mosquitoes, or have a pesky bat flying over eating them before they get to you?