Bats In the Corn Field


| 9/16/2008 1:41:11 PM


Tags: beneficial animals, bats, organic pest control, corn earworms, organic farming research,

After Frank Bibin helped his pecan orchard kick the chemicals, he started on the sweetcorn field. His allies in this effort are bats — lots of them. About 4,000 a night, give or take a grand.

For nearly a decade the bats, with some daytime help from paper wasps, have controlled pecan nut case bearer, fall webworm, walnut caterpillar, stinkbugs, twig girdler and hickory shuck worm, saving the farm more than $1,000 each year in pecan pesticide costs. But economics weren’t the reason Bibin started looking for alternative pest control when his family moved to the south Georgia farm in 1994 and discovered that the pecan trees were on a conventional spray program.

“Spraying was one of the most awful experiences of my life,” he recalls. “It smelled terrible. The law required a 24-hour yard restriction after every spraying, but even that didn’t seem like enough. I wore protective clothing, masks and gloves. Still it was always splashing on me when hoses broke or spray tips clogged. We found dead birds after every spraying.”

Bibin built his first bat house after reading about the flying insect gobblers in 1996. It sat empty for two years, but finally in March 1998, 25 bats took up residence. He kept building; they kept coming. Today more than 20 bat houses host up to 4,000 bats during the warm months. Since each bat eats about half its weight in insects (about 6 grams), Bibin estimates they wipe out about 50 pounds of insects each night. Within three years of the bats’ arrival, the orchard was operating insecticide-free.

The guano that piles up on the ground beneath the bat houses is an added benefit of the arrangement. Before the advent of chemical fertilizer American farmers imported tons of guano to feed their crops and it is once again in favor as more farmers transition to organic production. Between the free organic fertilizer and the free organic pest control, organic certification has been less costly for Bibin than for most would-be organic farmers.

Bats have done so much for his farm that Bibin became a spokesperson on their behalf, working to dispel some of the myths that associate bats with rabies, hair-tangling and even vampires.  Schools and scout groups invite him to speak and to supervise civic installations of bat houses for insect control in public places.  He became a research cooperator with Bat Conservation International (BCI), counting bats and recording observations of their behavior around the farm. Television crews from France and Britain have visited the farm to shoot footage for documentaries. Scientists from universities and researchers from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are among those who conduct studies at the farm. And that brings us back to the sweetcorn.

gwen roland
9/3/2009 7:10:46 AM

Dakota Woman you are correct that Frank Bibin needs daytime pest protection. While his most recent research addressed bats eating corn ear worms, Frank had a previous SARE project evaluating poliste wasps for daytime pest patrol in his pecan orchard and bats after dark. I've listened, spellbound, at Frank describing the big red wasps carrying caterpillars twice their size. Other times, they will cut a supersized caterpillar in half and make two trips. You can read a story I wrote about Frank's early research on page 6 of my Common Ground newsletter for Spring 2005 at : http://www.southernsare.uga.edu/commongrnd/05spring.pdf


dave_59
8/31/2009 1:05:55 PM

Dakota Woman - It is important to remember that bats feed at night, so they are only going to eat insects that are active at night, such as moths and mosquitoes. I would guess that your flies are active during the day. So you might think about attracting something that eats flies during the day - swallows or martins, perhaps? Bat numbers in a roost will vary a lot for many reasons - to escape buildup of parasites, changes in temperature, changes in population of prey, etc. Since many bats feed over water, I wonder if your garlic oil may be killing more than mosquito larvae? I don't know anything about garlic oil. But you might try skipping the garlic oil for a year to see what happens. There is a very useful forum on bat houses here: http://www.bathouseforum.org


dakota woman
10/22/2008 4:24:04 PM

I have bat houses but don't have as many bats as I think I should. This year, the population seems to have decreased. I'm in SC ND, so any suggestions you might have for attracting more bats would be much appreciated. I live near a feedlot & that means flies. Lots and lots of flies. Both the feedlot & my digs are on a small river, and we don't have the mosquitoes most would expect because I spray with a garlic oil - water spray that kills the larvae. But about those flies.... Suggestions could be emailed to me at onedakotawoman@yahoo.com. Thanks!





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