Do bats serve as an effective mosquito control?
Recently the public has shown increased interest in the value of insectivorous species of bats in controlling mosquitoes. Although untested lately, this is not a new idea. During the 1920's several bat towers were constructed near San Antonio, Texas, in order to help control malarial mosquitoes. Mosquito populations were not affected and the project was discontinued. Bats in temperate areas of the world are almost exclusively insectivorous. Food items identified in their diet are primarily beetles, wasps, and moths. Mosquitoes have comprised less than 1% of gut contents of wild caught bats in all studies to date. Bats tend to be opportunistic feeders. They do not appear to specialize on particular types of insects, but will feed on whatever food source presents itself. Large, concentrated populations of mosquitoes could provide adequate nutrition in the absence of alternative food. However, a moth provides much more nutritional value per capture than a mosquito. M.D. Tuttle, a world authority on bats, is often quoted for his anecdotal report that bats effectively controlled mosquito populations at a popular resort in New York State. While there is no doubt that bats have probably played a visible, if not prominent, role in reducing the mosquito problems in many areas, the natural abatement of mosquito populations is an extremely complex process to study, comprising poorly known ecological relationships. Tuttle attempts to underscore the bats role by citing an experiment in which bats released into a laboratory room filled with mosquitoes caught up to 10 mosquitoes per minute. He extrapolated this value to 600 mosquitoes per hour. Thus, a colony of 500 bats could consume over a quarter of a million mosquitoes per hour. Impressive numbers indeed, but singularly unrealistic when based upon a study where bats were confined in a room with mosquitoes as their only food source. There is no question that bats eat mosquitoes, but to utilize them as the sole measure of control would be folly indeed, particularly considering the capacity of both mosquitoes and bats to transmit diseases.