Below, a version of this story that aired on WUFT-FM:
Walking along the gravel path to Denise Buetow’s backyard in the late afternoon sun, the sounds of birds and wildlife fill the air. But at night, like so many nights before, Buetow waits for a different creature to emerge.
Buetow has four bat houses on her Ocala property, three of which are active. The active houses are named Bat 1, Bat 2 and Bat 3. The small wooden boxes, not much bigger than a toaster, sit atop long poles in the ground. Despite their small size, Buetow said they can fit between one hundred to two hundred bats each.
Because bats are nocturnal, Buetow often sits on her porch at sundown to watch the bats leave. She said the best part about having bats on her property is that they eat all the insects and mosquitos.
Before they built the houses, Buetow and her family would enjoy the evenings outside, and she decided to build the first bat house when she saw a few bats flying around.
After doing some research, she built the first house, but it took longer than she expected before any furry friends decided to stay.
“It took two years before anybody occupied it, and then the first time we watched it we had three. We were so excited,” Buetow said.
Paul Ramey, assistant director of marketing and public relations with the Florida Museum, said this is common. It often takes bats a long time to permanently occupy a space.
“I like to tell people, ‘You can tell bats where not to live by excluding them, but you can’t really tell them where to live.’ They can be very particular sometimes about where they want to live,” Ramey said.
Ramey said this was also the case with the first UF bat house, which was built in 1991. It wasn’t until four years later, in 1995 when bats finally occupied the house.
Buetow is so enamored by bats that she went to a bat presentation at the Florida Museum of Natural History in February. During the presentation, Bat Conservation International Board Chair Cullen Geiselman assured the audience that bats rarely transmit diseases to humans.
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s situation summary of COVID-19, early reports in China were linked to a “large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread.” Geiselman further assured that the bats that spread COVID-19 in China were “Old World bats,” or bats that live in the eastern hemisphere. These bats never encounter “New World bats” like those found in the United States.
According to the director of the Lubee Bat Conservancy, Brian Pope, people should not be afraid of bats, especially now.
A consensus among both bat experts and enthusiasts is that there are many common misconceptions about bats — they’ll fly in your hair, they all have rabies, they’re flying mice. According to Pope, humans are actually more closely related to mice than bats are.
Back on the porch, Buetow waits quietly for the bats to emerge. She can hear the squeaks in the house as the bats begin to wake up. The minutes pass by, and soon she begins to worry they won’t come out tonight.
But after a few more minutes of anticipation, small flurries of fur and wings begin to fly out of the box. After a few more minutes, it seems that all the bats have left their house for the night. Buetow smiles and nods, satisfied with the night’s viewing.