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Farmers Go for Bats
British Columbia has the highest bat diversity of any Canadian province with seventeen species found here. The Okanagan and Similkameen valleys are home to fourteen varieties, rare and unique such as the blond Pallid Bat and black-and-white Spotted Bat. Bats are voracious insect-eaters--a nursing female will eat her weight in insects each night and Little Brown Bats have been observed eating well over 500 mosquitoes per hour.
Bats play an important role in nature, consuming vast quantities of insects some of which are costly agricultural pests, either in their larvae or adult form. Many insects can sense the bat's echolocation signals and avoid areas where bats are feeding--so a healthy bat population is definitely a plus for agricultural producers.
Bats need daytime roosts and structures suitable for maternal colonies. Roosts provide protection during the day and can include trees, overhanging roofs, rock crevices, and human-made structures. Not much is known about where BC bats spend the winter. Many of our province's bats will migrate to warmer areas but there are a few species that stay here hibernating in deep caves and mine shafts.
The diversity of bat species in BC indicates the high biodiversity of our natural areas. But half of our province's bats are considered potentially endangered or threatened species at risk. Loss of habitat, destruction of roosting sites, and environmental contaminants have affected bat populations, so bats could use some help. Luckily many orchard and vineyard owners realize the benefit of having bats around and have erected bat houses on their properties.
Ken and Mellhina Thibault of Casa del Mell Orchard in Osoyoos put up bat boxes in 2009 as part of a number of wildlife friendly initiatives on their property. "When we moved here in 2003, we knew this was a special place. Mell and I reflected on the footprint we wanted to leave on the land, and wanted to balance agriculture with the environment." says Ken Thibault.
The Thibaults signed up with the Environmental Farm Plan and were encouraged to clean up a wetland on their property which had potential to support rare amphibians. In 2007 with assistance from EFP as well as The Land Conservancy's SOS Stewardship Program, the Thibaults cleaned up and re-dug a small pond and replanted native vegetation around the pond.
"We also learned that bats benefitted from the pond as they eat hundred of insects. To invite bats to stay, we found out they needed a roost or bat house." The Thibaults worked with their neighbours including Joe Hilario from Lighthouse Orchards, and Aaron Reid a bat expert, to design and built two bat houses. The houses sit on a tall steel pole, one facing north and one facing south, so the bats have a choice of temperature conditions. The houses are open on the bottom with vertical slats of wood creating four chambers.
The bat houses could support a maternal colony of several hundred bats. Nobody has shinnied up the pole to look inside but the white-wash under the bat house shows that bats have definitely moved in. To learn more about bats and building bat houses visit Bat Conservation International's web site at www.batcon.org.
So, next time you're in Osoyoos driving on Hwy 97, stop at the oldest road-side fruit stand in the area--Casa Del Mell Orchards and ask to see the bat condo. Casa del Mell Orchards has been recognized as a "Conservation Partner" by TLC The Land Conservancy. TLC coordinates the South Okanagan – Similkameen Stewardship Program which assists landowners with restoring and conserving wildlife habitat. Contact them in Penticton at 250-492-0173 or visit their web site www.conservancy.bc.ca. and click on "agriculture" to learn more about their programs.