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Bad Bats

2009 Fay Jacobs

Fay Jacobs

I was at Our Lady of Lowes last Sunday morning along with much of the other lesbian population of Sussex County when I spied two friends walking down the aisle with what appeared to be a birdhouse.

Oh no, they said, it was a bat house and it's all the rage now for clearing backyards of mosquitoes. Every lesbian they know is putting up a bat house.

Now I'm as anxious as the next person to avoid B-52 mosquito squads, but the idea of inviting bats to the party to deter mosquitoes seemed rather like inviting Dick Cheney over for hot dogs in order to keep Colin Powell away. I'd rather have General Powell and a swarm of blood-sucking mosquitoes than Dick Cheney and bats. Dick Cheney and bats, in the same sentence, that's quite appropriate.

No, No, said my friends, bats are lovely guests, you hardly see them and they insure a swarm-free picnic on the deck. They are nature's best insect deterrent. To me, nature's best insect deterrent is staying in the house.

Next, my buds told me you have to mount the bat house on a twelve-foot pole, which I agreed was perfect as I wouldn't touch anything to do with bats with a ten-foot pole. My spouse just rolled her eyes and put a bat house into our shopping cart. Lovely. Peer pressure sucks.

So I did some research. All you have to do to attract bats is to provide them with a bat-friendly structure. Apparently bats like crowded, warm spaces, so we're lucky we don't attract them to women's happy hour on Friday night. And they like it to be 80 to 100 degrees where they can bask in the sun. Perhaps they'd like an Olivia cruise.

Experts suggest putting a thermometer atop the pole along with the bat house so you can check if the temperature is right to attract occupants. I can barely stagger to the TV in the morning to check the weather channel, so there's very little chance of me shinnying up a pole to check the bat climate.

Here's good news: "a single brown bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in one hour." I imagine that a single gray schnauzer can eat one bat in the time it takes for me to hit them both with a broom to break up the feast. This concerns me.

"A single bat consumes up to 3000 insects a night - a third of those are usually mosquitoes!" Good god, what are the other two thirds, locusts?

"Bats kill mosquitoes that spread West Nile Virus." Oy, something else I never worried about that I can obsess over now. Although I'm more concerned with the West Sussex virus that causes homophobia.

Here's a great fact. In Austin, Texas there's a place called Bracken Cave, which is the summer home to between...ready...20 to 30 million Mexican free-tailed bats. Like I needed another reason never to go to Texas.

On the internet I found a pamphlet called Attracting Bats, which, along with Field Guide to Moose Dressing, is something I figured I never would have to read. Apparently, using lures like bat guano don't work, thank god. Did I ever think I'd be typing the words "bat guano?"

Holy Bat Box, Batman, this attracting bats thing is much like field of nightmares - build it and they will come. Eventually. We should have put the bat box up this past spring, before the bats came back from their winter hibernation. That's good, actually, since Bonnie can have all the fun in the world installing it now and I won't have to worry about going bats for at least a year. Now that's a project I can encourage. Do you think the bats hibernate in Ft. Lauderdale like the rest of Rehoboth?

Another bat book warns that it could be three to five years before I get a healthy contingent of bats. At that rate, when we sell the house the bats will convey. This project is sounding better and better.

I wound up on the internet half the night looking at bat stuff. I especially liked the site with advice on getting rid of nuisance bats. At this point in my reading, there seems to be no other kind.

But no, there are a zillion varieties? According to the Bat Conservation Organization (Conserve Bats!) you can even sponsor a bat, choosing from big brown bats or Vampire Bats. They even have names, like Gandolf the Egyptian Fruit Bat. I wanted to know whether I would get a welcome kit and wallet-sized picture of Gandolf if I sponsored him. Can we e-mail and get updates? Is my sponsorship enough to feed and clothe a bat for a year? I was actually considering making a donation when I got an e-mail from Facebook noting that I had a new friend request. Good lord, did my bat intuit that I was thinking of sponsoring him?

No, it was just a simple friend request from Rehoboth. But I made the mistake of posting my little bat project on Facebook and immediately started getting all kinds of dire warnings.

Most began with "Are you crazy????," followed by the advice that building a house for Purple Martins would work just as well against mosquitoes. Then somebody suggested I forget the Purple Martins and go directly for purple martinis which suited me fine. I could get back to the bat project later.

But then came the most dire warning of all. "Careful! They love coming in the house - and I don't mean the mosquitoes! Ever try catching one as it fly dives from room curtain to room curtain! We did - finally had to call a bat catcher to do the job."

Okay, now I'm picturing having to call Dracula Exterminators for a bat geek to prowl around my darkened house with a giant fish net while the dogs and I check into a motel.

That did it. I sent Bonnie, the bat house and the twelve-foot pole back to Lowes with instructions to return with Cintronella candles and Deep Woods Off. I'm relieved there won't be bats at Schnauzerhaven any time soon, but I'm seriously worried about all those lesbians in Rehoboth trying to lure bats into their belfrys. Give it up, girls. Maybe this summer, to get up close and personal with bats, we should skip the Michigan Womyns's Music Festival and go to the Annual Great Lakes Bat Festival on August 28 and 29. At this one, I hope to hell nobody gets naked in the woods. Enough said.
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Fay Jacobs, a native New Yorker, spent 30 years in the Washington, DC area working in journalism, theater and public relations. She has contributed feature stories and columns to such publications as The Advocate, OUTtraveler, The Baltimore Sun, Chesapeake Bay Magazine, The Washington Blade, The Wilmington News Journal, Delaware Beach Life and more.

Since 1995 she has been a regular columnist for Letters from CAMP Rehoboth, and won the national 1997 Vice Versa Award for excellence. Her columns are collected in the books, As I Lay Frying: a Rehoboth Beach Memoir and the newly published Fried & True - Tales of Rehoboth Beach.

Fay is Publisher and Managing Editor of A&M Books, the publisher of the 14 classic Sarah Aldridge novels.

She and Bonnie, her partner of 25 years, relocated to Rehoboth Beach, DE in 1999. They have two Miniature Schnauzers and a riding lawn mower.

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