With its highly ranked football team and its starting
quarterback, Danny Wuerffel, the University of Florida is well
known in the sports world. Who knows that the school is also the
home of one of the largest man-made bat houses in the U.S., the
residents of which help protect Gators fans from mosquito bites?
The 20-by-20-foot bat house, located on the Gainesville campus
near Lake Alice, accommodates 100,000--more than Ben Hill
Griffin Stadium, which seats a mere 83,000. Florida athletic
department officials say that the $20,000 spent to build the
house was a prudent investment. According to Danny Sheldon,
assistant athletic director for facilities and operations, "The
bats aren't roosting in our stadiums anymore, and they eat lots
of insects, including mosquitoes."
In fact, the 20,000 bats in residence eat as many as 20 million
pesky critters (weighing up to 500 pounds) every night. The
university's pest-control manager, entomologist Ken Glover,
says, "We no longer spray. We depend on the bats for pest
Bats have long been a part of the campus community, but in 1987
the colony's original roost, Johnson Hall, burned down, and the
4,000 displaced bats moved into the university's new stadiums
for track and field and for tennis. The bats' odor attracted the
attention of Bob Martinez, then Florida's governor, who was
attending a summer track and field meet for high school athletes
on the Florida campus, when he reportedly asked, "What's that
"When the governor made a stink about the stink, the University
Athletic Association had to deal with it," says entomologist Dr.
William Kern Jr., of the state Department of Wildlife and
Conservation, who works with the university. The bat house was
the brainchild of another entomologist, Dr. Jackie Belwood, who
was doing a postdoctoral pest-control study on campus. "When
Jackie approached us with her idea," says Sheldon, "I said,
'Right. Like the UAA will really spring for this.'" But, he
adds, "it was out of the question to eradicate the bats."
"We had to do the right thing," says athletic director Jeremy
Foley. Florida architect Bill Hunter was summoned to design the
perfect bat condo. The wooden structure had to stand on long
legs to give the animals a drop distance for takeoff. "They need
a wingful of air to get going," says Glover. The house was
mounted on 18-foot-high pylons and fitted with insulation and a
tin roof (to reflect the heat of the sun). A slatted floor
allows the bats to come and go as they please.
After the bat house was completed, it was "carpeted" with bat
guano to make it more homey. "We had to get rid of that
new-house smell," says Belwood. On the night of the big
move--Sept. 24, 1991--Marshall Hanks, a bat expert from Sturgeon
Bay, Wis., trapped the bats and moved them to their new abode,
where the floor slats were closed to keep the bats in for a
24-hour housewarming. Alas, after the slats were opened the
following day, all 3,000 bats took off, never to return.
Having spent a bundle on the bat house, the UAA kept a "low
profile for two years," Foley says. "We were worried about
getting our money's worth and wondered if we could get some
students to move in up there."
Then in March 1993, a covey of 18 male bats moved in. They
stayed only until April, but another 300 bachelors appeared the
following March. By February '95 about 1,000 females had moved
in, and by April, 3,000 bats were in residence. At the end of
May baby bats were born, doubling the population. Now when bats
stream out of the house every evening at dusk, a crowd gathers
to watch. The bats have become such an attraction that Gators
alumnus and bat fan George Marks, who lives in Madeira Beach,
Fla., recently donated $2,000 to build a viewing facility.
"Soon," says Glover, "we may have the first bat crossing sign in
Adele Conover is a freelance science writer who lives in
COLOR PHOTO: MILT PUTNAM UF/IFAS Glover says there's no need to spray because the bats can eat 500 pounds of bugs daily. [Ken Glover holding small bat]
COLOR PHOTO: DR. WILLIAM KERN JR. [Bats in bat house]