the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz? For a scarecrow, he wasn't really very scary
after all, was he? Bats are the same way.
have a reputation for being scary, but they actually do a lot of
good--especially for farmers. They love to eat insects, the way you probably
love cookies or ice cream. One insect that bats will devour is the corn earworm
moth, which costs American corn and cotton growers about $2 billion a year to
control and in crop losses.
Agricultural Research Service
researchers in College Station, Texas, have been studying whether the great big
appetite of one bat--called the Mexican free-tailed bat--includes corn earworm
moths. A million of these bats can gobble up nearly 10 tons of insects in just
one night. That means the 20 million bats living in Bracken Cave--the most
famous of bat "hang-outs"--near San Antonio, Texas, can put a huge dent in moth
ARS meteorologist John K.
Westbrook at College Station has studied moth migration--the way moths travel
from one location to another--for 17 years. He knows that bats and moths
typically fly in the air at about the same altitude.
In early June, billions of corn earworm
moths emerge from the Lower Rio Grande Valley along the border of Texas and
Mexico. Some moths feed on cotton after feasting on southern corn, while others
travel northward to gobble their way through midwestern corn, cotton, and other
Cotton and corn farmers are controlling
the moths mostly by spraying their crops with pesticides. But the ARS
researchers are looking for cheaper and more environmentally friendly ways to
control the damaging moths. Dr. Westbrook and bat specialist Gary F. McCracken
of the University of Tennessee and Merlin Tuttle of Bat Conservation
International think that bats could help farmers reduce the numbers of moths
chomping on their corn crop and their profits.
In studies to confirm the bats' appetite for moths, Dr.
McCracken and Dr. Westbrook attached radiomicrophones to helium-filled balloons
called "tetroons." While the tetroons were drifting 2,500 feet above the
ground, the microphones picked up the high-frequency sounds of bats searching
for and feeding on moths. Now, if more farmers built bat houses instead of bird
houses, there might be a big reduction in moths!
to: (a) the movement of moths from place
to place (b) the altitude
of 2,500 feet above the ground (c) the application of microphones to tetroons
To check out other websites for
information on bats: http://www.batcon.org
By Linda McGraw, formerly Information Staff, Agricultural