University of Florida has a sporting proposition for bats: a new $30,000 house

July 07, 1991|By Arden Moore | Arden Moore,Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- New house. On campus. Lake view. Free. Meals provided. Must fly in to appreciate.

University of Florida officials are aggressively seeking tenants, but the house isn't for students.

It's for bats.

Taking a $30,000 gamble, university officials hope to coax nearly 6,000 of the creatures out of the bat-infested track, baseball and tennis stadiums and into a custom-designed bat house just west of a wildlife sanctuary in the heart of the campus.

"To my knowledge, nothing on this large of a scale has been attempted before," said Marshall Hanks, a Wisconsin man who has a national reputation for removing unwanted bats from attics and buildings.

He said that many people pay him to remove bats but that few offer to build a new site.

There is no guarantee that the Mexican free-tailed and large brown bats will like the new University of Florida bat house. They may elect to roost elsewhere on campus.

But university officials are willing to gamble.

Too many people are holding their ears and their noses when they attend sporting events.

"They are noisy critters, and their guano [droppings] gives off a ,, very pungent, obnoxious odor," said Mr. Hanks. "You can smell them a couple hundred yards away if you're in the right direction."

Mr. Hanks was hired to exorcise the bats from the stadium, place them in cages and relocate them into the bat house in the fall.

The birth of baby bats in April and May postponed the relocation efforts until August.

The wooden house has an aluminum roof and is perched 20 feet above the ground on five telephone pole-shaped stilts. It has no windows. Small openings in the floor will allow the bats to fly in and away from predators. It has room for up to 100,000 bats.

Piles of bat guano are being placed inside to entice these winged creatures of the night.

"They really like that smell," said Ken Glover, University of Florida pest control manager.

The $30,000 project is being financed by the university's athletic department and not tax dollars, he said.

Mr. Glover is quick to point out the environmental virtues of bats: They eat half their weight nightly in mosquitoes, beetles and other insects, and their droppings are rich fertilizer.

"It's hard to put a dollar value on them, but I believe we save some money because the bats act as a natural insect control," Mr. Glover said.

And they rarely bite.

"I have dealt with bats for 10 years and have never been bitten, scratched or attacked," said Mr. Hanks. "Bats are very timid and afraid of people."

And the sight of thousands of bats pouring out of the stadiums at dusk has attracted a regular group of naturalists and bat enthusiasts.

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