Bats are one of the largest groups of mammals in world and differ from other mammals with their ability of powered flight. It is for this reason that they are widely distributed across all continents in the world with the exception of Antarctica. South Africa alone boosts over 60 different species of bats including insect-eating and fruit-eating bats. These flying mammals provide essential ecosystem services such as pest control through consuming thousands of insects each evening as well as acting as pollinator and seed dispersal agents for over 500 plants species including baobabs, banana, mango, cocoa, and agave.
Owing to the loss of their habitat however, you are likely today to encounter bats in your very own roof. Installation of bat boxes is one of the best ways to avoid human-wildlife conflict for those who may not enjoy the mess of guano and noise of bats although there is no disease risks to letting bats use your home as a roost.
Bat houses or bat boxes are artificial roosting sites for insectivorous bats and are used to provide a safe roosting option for bats that is temperature-controlled and out of reach from predators. These bat houses are often erected as an alternative roosting option for bats being removed from ceilings, which must be done ethically using exclusion methods, or as supplementary roosts due to the reduction in natural habitat.
Bats are remarkably adaptable with each species having their own roosting preferences including crevices such as rocks and brick holes, foliage in trees and bark or cave-roosting such as attics and natural caverns. It is highly beneficial to have bats roosting in your ceilings as they provide free pest and mosquito control each night!
Bat houses provide a great educational and research opportunity as we are still unravelling the behaviours, movements and ecology of bats in South Africa. Local PhD students (Miss Alexandra Howard and Mr Veli Mdluli) and researchers (Professor Peter Taylor and Professor Aliza Le Roux) from the University of the Free State have teamed up with a local conservationist Mr Bo van der Lecq to supply bat houses to farmers and schools, to probe and improve public perceptions of bats and to assist with research efforts.
Faecal pellets from bat colonies that occupy these houses will be collected to enable researchers to determine what insects (including pests) are being consumed by local bats in farming and residential areas around Clarens, Phuthaditjhaba and Harrismith. The project kicked off with the installation of two bat houses on the grounds of the Methodist Church in Clarens.
The newly erected bat houses at the Clarens Methodist Church in support of bat research and conservation. From L to R: Prof Peter Taylor, Dr Sina Weier, Mr Bo van der Lecq and Ms Alexandra Howard.