In the brilliant sunlight of a Saturday morning, a dozen boy scouts are struggling to lift a 12 foot metal pole. At the top of the pole is a wooden box-about 2 feet by 3 feet-that will serve as a home for 200 bats. The Scouts are installing three such boxes next to the storm water detention basin at the corner of Jones Road and Fallbrook Drive. There’s wide open fields, a big pond-and now, bat boxes.
14 year old Clayton Marshall from Troop 44, Sam Houston Area Council, is spearheading the project. He hopes to earn what’s called a Hornaday Award, for preserving the environment. Marshall has really gotten behind the bats:
“Most people think that bats are scary blood sucking vampires that will bite you and kill you. Really they’re just they’re great animals for the environment. 600 bats on these 3 colonies will eat 13,000 pounds of flying insects annually.”
And that’s why Diana Foss, an urban wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, says that bats are essential for a buggy place like Houston.
“Bats are really important because they eat tons of insects, which of course all of us enjoy so that we can spend time outdoors. They’re nature’s pest control at night.”
Bats eat mosquitoes, and even those giant roaches we see in the summer. But like many animals, the bat population is suffering due to habitat destruction. Bats normally live in dead trees, but urban development is forcing them into school gyms and people’s attics.
“This particular winter has been really difficult for the bats in the Houston area because we usually have mild winters. And these cold snaps, they kind of have the bats scrambling, trying to find someplace warmer.”
Some people might not welcome a swarm of bats to their property every night. Marshall had to call several places before the Harris County Flood Control District said their land would work for the bats. Scout Master Lance Wilkerson saw another good use for this new community.
“This is really cool. It would be cool to be able to come out here and hang out here at night and watch the bats come back. Maybe we can come out here and camp.”
As the signs at the Waugh Drive Bridge say, “Have you thanked a bat recently?”