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BAT BOXES BUILT TO KEEP BUGS AWAY FROM BOATS

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Bats have a bad reputation, but they're just the creatures Scott Pilkington of Chattanooga, Tenn., hopes to attract in his effort against insects.

Pilkington, owner of a canoeing and river guide service on the Sequatchie River, builds bat boxes, or houses. He put up 30 last spring on an 18-mile stretch of river often used by canoeists. His motivation is that bats common in the Chattanooga area thrive on river insects.At least one of the boxes attracted bats, Pilkington said, based on a report from a canoeist who saw bats flying out late one evening in April.

Chiropterists, or bat lovers, commonly build bat boxes to relieve a housing shortage for the often misunderstood flying mammals. Bat populations have dropped rapidly in the past 20 years, primarily because humans have disturbed bat habitats, scientists say.

Developers have cut down many hollow trees, and well-meaning spelunkers often intrude in caves during bat hibernating and birthing seasons, said Michael Harvey, chairman of the biology department at Tennessee Technical University at Cookeville.