Blooms for Bats

Sarah Gorton

San Antonio is home to one of the world’s largest bat colonies — a boon for natural pest control since a bat can eat its weight in insects in a single night. Encourage these bug–munching mammals by growing bat–tastic native plants.

Few San Antonio residents know that we have the largest colony of bats in the world. Just north of San Antonio heading towards Garden Ridge, the Bracken Cave is home to up to 20 million Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida braziliensis) in the summer.

Across the United States bats save us around $3 billion in pest control costs every year by eating pests that destroy food crops. Bats can eat up to their body weight in insects in one night — that’s like a human eating 45 pizzas in one night! So it’s important that we support our local bat populations. One way to do that is by growing native plants.

While most of our local bat species are cave-dwellers, we also have a few species that are tree-dwellers (northern yellow bats and eastern red bats). Palm trees are great for northern yellow bats who love hanging out amongst the dead, dangling fronds.

Bats in south central Texas eat insects, especially moths and beetles, so you can also help bats by growing plants that insects need to survive. Plants with light-colored blooms can attract night pollinators because they’re easier to see in the dim light. Consider planting almond verbenaspiderlily or blackfoot daisy.

Night blooming plants like angel trumpets, aka moonflower (Brugmansia), attract moths in the evening. With large white blooms it’s the perfect plant for our nighttime friends. Some folks, and moths, love the smell of the night blooming cereus (tropical cacti). Use vines like Confederate jasminebutterfly vine and crossvine liberally.

Plants with strong fragrances also attract lots of moths (Lepidoptera). Good candidates for this include the aforementioned almond verbenacenizowhitebrush, crape myrtles and all the Salvias.

And of course, you can help all wildlife by letting your landscape go a little wild. Compost and log piles provide habitat for insects that bats prey on. Skipping pesticides means more prey for the bats to feed on (and ultimately, less insects bothering you).

If you want to keep your bats close to home, consider putting up a Bat Conservation International-approved bat house.

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white-lined sphinx moth