Growing up near a lake in hot, humid Florida, mosquitoes were as familiar a sight as fresh orange juice at the farmers’ market. I’d spend entire summers desperately scratching the little red bumps that would pop up everywhere from the tips of my ears to the tops of my toes. In college, I learned about the harmful chemicals in the average bug spray, which usually contains DEET, a compound that’s been shown to affect our nervous system and can be toxic to plants and wildlife. So I opted for natural repellents, lathering on lemon and eucalyptus oil for camping trips and cookouts. Still, the mosquitoes prevailed.
But there’s another way to keep the pesky biters at bay that’s both better for us and the environment — one that can be found soaring among the streetlights and treetops at night, and tucked away in nooks and crannies during the day.
The solution? Bats.
The startup BatBnB is on a mission to put bat houses in backyards across the country — and to change people’s preconceptions of the winged critters in the process. Coined as a “natural solution to backyard pest control” and designed with a bat’s unique biology in mind, the sleek wooden boxes attach to the side of a house, garage or barn. The largest model can host up to 200 of the flying mammals.
When it comes to pest control, bats are master feeders — a single one can devour up to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour. And that’s good news not just for the sake of our skin, but also for the farmers across the country who rely on bats to eat crop-destroying bugs, including beetles, moths and grasshoppers. A 2011 study estimated farmers save at least $3 billion — and potentially a lot more — in pesticide use when bats are allowed to do their thing.
But today’s bats face numerous challenges that have seen their populations fall worldwide. In the United States, it’s estimated that half of bat species are in severe decline; several are on the endangered species list. Most of the threat comes from the destruction of their roosting habitats. But bats are also increasingly falling victim to wind turbines, and a fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome kills millions more.
“Bats are largely roost-limited, and we’ve cut down the ancient forests that included lots of trees with hollows,” Merlin Tuttle, an ecologist and bat expert who consulted on the design of the BatBnB houses, told Mother Nature Network. “A lot of those bats now are pretty desperate for homes, and bat houses do provide a pretty good alternative.”
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Nothing makes Harrison happier than putting up our newest BatBnB model. Introducing the final form of the Bat Wing model. Got some cool coloration on the wood here too – best part about cedar products is that no one unit will be exactly alike because of the unique knots and grain patterns in each piece of wood. #bats #yardart #blueskies #savethebats
Made from sustainable wood, the long, flat bat houses are elegantly carved and designed to mimic the mammals’ natural habitats. As they researched, co-founders Harrison Broadhurst and Christopher Rännefors learned that bats are picky sleepers, preferring toasty temps and tall, narrow roosting chambers. So they outfitted the houses with interior grooves for the bats to hang onto and vents to control temperature.
The appreciation for bats runs deep for BatBnB’s founders. Rännefors grew up building bat houses with his dad, and Broadhurst’s mom, a biology teacher, incorporated bats into her lessons. Despite a positive ecological impact — bats pollinate flowers and disperse seeds in addition to ridding us of disease-carrying mosquitoes — Rännefors and Broadhurst know that the stigma of bats as human bloodsuckers persists. So as part of their mission, they work to educate consumers on the benefits bats bring. Call it a bat rebranding.
“Bats are radically misunderstood, threatened and undervalued for their insect-eating skills,” Rännefors told Fast Company. “[We hope] more people will respect them.”
Thanks to BatBnB’s efforts — which count proud bat-house owners in 47 states and seven countries — it seems they’re on the right track.