After dark, these nocturnal creatures provide natural pollination and pest control.

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group of bats flying
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When nightfall descends, look up and you'll see winged bats take to the sky. These mysterious creatures are both revered and feared in our culture—having inspired tales of vampires, superheroes, and more—but bats are much more than their admittedly frightening looks: "Bats have important functions within the ecosystems in which they occur. Bats that eat fruit or drink nectar serve an important role as seed dispersers or pollinators for the plants on which they feed," explains Gregory A. Smith, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences at Kent State University. "But most bats, including the bats we find in the U.S., are insectivorous and are experts at catching and eating night-flying insects." That includes mosquitoes—and because bats can eat in amounts up to half of its body weight, that means that a single bat could eat 1,000 to 3,000 insects in a single night.

So, if you live in an area prone to attracting bothersome insects, here's how to attract bats to your yard.

Attracting Bats

"Like any species, the key to attracting bats is to provide for their needs; specifically, food, water, and shelter. You very likely already have the food covered—insects. Water can be provided with a bird bath or landscaped water garden. A nearby larger body of water, such as a pond or lake, will work also," Smith says. "Providing shelter is probably the main attractant for bats in your yard. You can provide shelter by leaving dead trees, as long as it is safe to do so. Not all bats roost in large colonies. Many of them roost solitarily under tree bark and within the leaves of trees."

Bat boxes are another way to offer shelter to visiting bats, but they require maintenance. An overheated bat house, Smith explains, could be a health danger to the bats that are residing in it. So, if you already live in a hot area and it would be difficult to control the temperature of the bat house, then you might want to try creating more open natural structures like shady trees. Experts generally recommend that people think twice before implementing a bat box in their yards. In most cases, it's not a good idea but it does depend on a lot of factors and should be executed in a manner that makes the housing as safe as possible for the bats.

Fostering a Safe Environment

In addition to food and shelter, it is important to reduce the use of pesticides around your home. Pesticides will harm natural wildlife because the poisons in the chemicals do not only affect the intended targets. But since bats are natural insect killers, there is less of a need to even use pesticides. And what about those of us who have cats at home? "One final recommendation is to keep your cats indoors," says Smith. "Young bats learning to fly are just as vulnerable to cat predation as are the birds in your yard. Keeping your cats indoors will benefit all of the wildlife around your home." After all, cats are natural hunters and like to stalk animals like birds, bats, and squirrels as their prey.

Another thing to consider is your house. "Attracting bats to your yard does open up the possibility that they can get into your home, in particular the attic," he says. "Bats can squeeze through very small openings in your eaves, soffits, and gables. Before taking measures to attract bats, you should inspect these areas of your home for damage, such as cracks or holes, and repair them." Prevent entry into your home through attic vents by securing a mesh screen behind the vent. And if bats still get into your attic, don't panic. Call a wildlife professional then secure the entryways so that bats can't get back into your home to nest.

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