Aussie mozzies v microbats

Bat boxes have begun appearing across the suburbs of Perth as councils realise that microbats might be the superhero Perth did not know it needed to help suppress mosquito populations.

The City of Kalamunda is one of the local governments encouraging bat box installation. It launched its Microbat Project early last year.

Kalamunda mayor Margaret Thomas said the project had been received well by residents.

“People love the whole idea of nature looking after nature. Rather than spraying mosquitos artificially, we encourage the bats with the bat boxes and they eat the mosquitoes,” she said.

Microbats are tiny creatures, weighing three to 30grams. Environmental educational organisation Natsync’s bat expert, Joe Tonga, said they were incredibly useful for their size.

“They eat nothing but insects. In fact, in one night they can eat up to a thousand mozzies. They are good natural control for insects,” he added.

Research published in the Austral Ecology journal this year described microbats as crucial for insect suppression. But the same study suggested that, while invaluable for the ecosystem, microbats may not always be effective mosquito suppressors.

Wildlife biologist Dr Joanna Burgar, who was involved with the research, explained that this was because microbats had a variety of prey, not just mosquitos: “They are able to switch their diet to reflect whatever insect prey happens to opportunistically fly by.”

Both experts agreed that microbats work best in numbers.

Having a cluster of boxes in an area creates the best chance of establishing a working microbat colony. According to Mr Tonga, a colony will help get rid of mozzies.

Based on this principle, several local government areas have jumped on board with bat boxes. These include the cities of South Perth, Cockburn, and Melville.

Bat boxes benefit both people and microbats. “We knock down their homes,” Mr Tonga said, adding that this makes humans the biggest threat to bats.

Residents of the City of Kalamunda can order bat boxes from their council. They are also available from various online shopping sites. For those who are into DIY projects, tutorials can be found online.

Mr Tonga advised anyone thinking of building bat boxes to make them as strong as possible.

“Building a box and sticking it up is like planting a tree. You’ve got to be patient. It could take up to three or four years for bats to find it, but once they do, they are loyal. You will love it,” he said.