They might not be vampires, but a bat infestation caused Halloween to come early this year for a Pasco County high school.
The science department at Sunlake High School in Land O’ Lakes intends to build two bat houses on campus in response to the school’s Brazilian free-tailed bat infestation, where, a few weeks ago, one was found dead and contained rabies.
Science teachers Tera Cignetti and Michelle Hock said they currently have about 50 students willing to volunteer after school to help construct the bat houses.
“(The bats) have taken up residence in our building, and that’s why they are all of a sudden a ‘nuisance,’” said Cignetti, who teaches biology. “We want to get them out of our building and into their own.”
The materials arrived in mid-October and consist of four 2-by-2 foot boxes that should house about 200 to 300 bats each. They will be mounted to telephone poles 15 to 20 feet off the ground.
“Our kids are really for it, and they don’t want the bats hurt in any way,” Cignetti said.
Hock, who teaches environmental science, said construction for the bat houses is planned to take place within the next couple of weeks. She said the project should be finished before the end of the semester, by the beginning of winter break.
The nocturnal creatures took residence in five different locations around the school since last year, according to the teachers.
Ecologix Pest Elimination and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission completed the bat removal project in October, after installing “bat excludor” devices, which are one-way doors that prevent return to the roostings.
Ted Del Sardo, owner of the private elimination firm, said most of the bat species in Florida prefer to infest man-made buildings and structures near bodies of water with high populations of insects.
“As far as making the bat houses more conducive to go to rather than anything else,” he said, “all you can do is educate yourself on (the bats’) habits and behaviors and put the houses in those conducive areas.”
One house will be located behind a baseball field and the other will be at the front of the school near one of the cypress swamps and retention ponds.
“In trying to keep the balance and harmony in nature, we don’t want these animals living amongst us but living in the world around us,” Del Sardo said.
Hock said there has always been a mosquito problem because the school is located on a cypress wall. However, she said no complaints have been made this year and the school has not had to spray for the insects.
Not only are the bat houses beneficial to these animals, but the bats themselves are also beneficial to people by reducing the need for pesticides, said Brian Pope, director of the Lubee Bat Conservancy in Gainesville.
“All of the bats in Florida are insect eating bats, and where their habitat is depends on the individual species,” Pope said.
Pope said eight or nine species of the 13 types of bats found in Florida would live in bat houses and other similar structures.
“They’re pretty picky about where they live, so if they find a good bat house, they’re going to utilize it,” Pope said.
He said the conservancy encourages people not only to learn about the native bats, but also to realize the diversity of them as a learning opportunity.
“Anytime you have a colony of animals like this around any type of university or school, it always enables opportunities for folks involved in a biological science to be able to do projects,” Pope said.
Hock and Cignetti found the planned construction convenient as it works into their curriculum of biodiversity and ecology teachings.
“The students were wanting to learn more about the bats, and so we’re just providing them with that opportunity,” Hock said. “They are excited. They think it’s cool. They want to take ‘selfies’ with the bat boxes.”