Going to Bat: Conservationists raise orphaned bats to combat mosquito population

(WSVN) - Bats may have a bad rap, but don’t let their scary reputation fool you. Yellow bats are crucial to keeping South Florida’s mosquito population in check, but this year, there has been a surge in sick and orphaned bats. 7’s Kevin Ozebek shows us how conservationists are “Going to Bat” for these important animals.

Deanna Duskin, animal caregiver: “So these guys are three to four weeks of age.”

There’s no need to convince anyone how cute these baby squirrels are, and most will see the beauty in this baby blue jay.

But as for these young yellow bats…

Veterinarian: “Looks great.”

…they don’t have many admirers, but they do have Dr. Antonia Gardner on their side.

Kevin Ozebek: “Do you really think they are cute?”

Dr. Antonia Gardner, veterinarian: “I think they are adorable.”

She’s a veterinarian here at the South Florida Wildlife Center in Fort Lauderdale, and this year, Dr. Gardner and her team have tirelessly cared for 17 sick, injured or orphaned yellow bats.

That’s three times more than last year.

Dr. Antonia Gardner: “It’s really, really important that we maintain the diversity in our bat population, so they can go ahead and be nature’s exterminator.”

Doctor Gardner has never treated so many orphans, and she thinks pristine landscaping is why more bats need her care.

Dr. Antonia Gardner: “He wants to go back up and take a nap.”

Yellow bats love to nest in dead palm fronds, so if you trim these from the trees in your yard during the wrong time of year, you could be putting the bats at risk.

Dr. Antonia Gardner: “Trimming those dead palm fronds will disturb that roost. Maybe the parents will leave. Then, the babies fall out of the tree. They can’t fly yet, and there you go. You have an orphaned baby.”

The orphans that end up at the Wildlife Center are first fed formula, but soon, they have to learn to love bugs!

Deanna Duskin: “They spit it out. They don’t want to have anything to do with it. They just want formula, and you’re like, ‘You are old enough. You need to take this! You can do it!’ So when they finally do, it’s very rewarding.”

These little ones have been guided through the bat equivalent of the terrible twos and will soon be released.

That’s the goal since yellow bats play a vital role in the South Florida ecosystem.

Just one bat can eat 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour.

Dr. Antonia Gardner: “So that’s 6,000 to 8,000 of them in a night, and that’s amazing considering these little guys are the size of a mouse with wings.”

That veracious appetite makes them invaluable for containing mosquito-borne viruses like Zika.

Dr. Antonia Gardner: “He’s stable, so we are going to do some X-rays on him.”

So from this vet who treats animals from all walks of life comes this two-part plea.

First, avoid trimming dead palm fronds during bat roosting season, which is May through August.

And second…

Dr. Antonia Gardner: “He’s looking good.”

…see the beauty in the bat, or at least appreciate them as Mother Nature’s mosquito control.

Dr. Gardner says a perfect time to trim off dead palm fronds is February.

That way they are removed before both bat roosting season as well as hurricane season.

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