Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

August 6, 2012

Paper Bat House

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:52 am

The small pile of droppings at the far edge of the porch were a sure indication that a bat (or bats) were using the spot above it as a rest station.  I assumed the place was a “night roost” – a place where a feeding bat will rest in-between midnight forays. Such spots are used only at night and are fairly open (day roosts are in protected cavities, cracks, holes and otherwise tight spots).

Dropping evidence is often the best way to tell if bats are about. Big Brown Bat doo is mouse-sized (as in the size of mouse droppings – not the size of mice!) and full of beetle parts. You can see the shiny bits of exoskeleton and elytra (wing covers) as evidence that these bats are beetle specialists.  Little Brown Bat doo is smaller, as you might expect, but I won’t go further into this discussion because I do not know enough about the fine points of bat bowel movements to continue. Let’s just say that I know it when I see it and I always saw it at the edge of the porch.

There is an old hornet nest, the lower half missing, located directly above the dropping scatter. It was apparent that the bat was using this nest as a hanging point. Because it is in a protected location the paper structure has survived for at least three years.  Every time I visited the cabin I peered up into the folds of the old nest to see if a bat remained within its folds, but without any luck – well, that is, until last week.

On my last visit I cleared away all of the old dropping to see if there was any fresh activity. Over the course of the next 12 hours, four fresh droppings appeared at the spot. This was ample proof that the place was still in use. It did seem, however, that at least two of the droppings were deposited during the daytime, so my night roost theory was in danger. But, the fact remained that I could not see any daytime bat.

Curiosity finally got the better of me. I broke out a flashlight and a ladder and visually probed the dark spaces deep within the nest. My effort was greeted by a view of a pink ear (see here), a patch of silky fur, and the bony forearm (see here) of a single Big Brown Bat tucked deep within. The nest was a day roost after-all.

Structurally, the choice makes perfect sense. Hornet nests are constructed of durable wood pulp paper  and are layered. The inner space surrounding the comb is the perfect dimension for a bat body (they like full body contact with their dwelling surfaces). Because they are constructed by flying critters, they are also situated in places where there is plenty of air space beneath the nest for easy egress (and digress?). Of course, this nest would not have been suitable for any bat occupation until after the colony died off and after the lower half fell off.  I’m not sure there is any documentation for this type of roost in the literature, but here it is now.

The bats around Dollar Lake come out to feed around 9:30 pm this time of year (being 20 minutes past sunset). I was hoping to catch this fellow in action as he dropped out of the roost to start his evening shift. As other bats were spotted flitting about over the cabin at 9:30, my hornet-house bat remained in place. It shuffled around a bit, but made no forward movement. I figured it was my flashlight that was preventing his departure, so I backed off and tried to give the spot more of an indirect illumination. I temporarily left at 9:40 pm in order to restore my neck vertebrae after starring straight up for near 20 minutes. When I returned, he was gone.

As I mentioned before, this situation – the combination of bat and hornet house – is at least three years old and I suspect that the same bat has been using it each summer over that time. Since bats can live up to 30 years, this time span for an individual is not unusual. As long as I don’t knock down the nest and nature allows for it to remain in place, I am confident this night creature will return for many more years.  I will have plenty of time to observe him and to count his droppings.


  1. HM! Things that make you say “HM” #102938: bats roosting in wasp nests. Who’d’a thought!

    Comment by Ellen — August 7, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

  2. My grandmother, Czelma Gibson, who lived in Monroe for 65 years always kept a bat in her house. It lived behind her piano for many years. She taught piano for many years. She once told me bat droppings are the best manure around. So don’t kill your bat…

    Comment by Kim Lawson — August 12, 2012 @ 7:53 am

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