Harrison Broadhurst and Christopher Rännefors with two models of their bat houses.
An adult bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquitos an hour.
That alone should make them heroes, but bats have terrible PR. People (falsely) associate them with disease, with night terrors and creepy flying things that get trapped in the house and entangled in one’s hair. That’s not even mentioning the vampire connection…
“Bats are much maligned, and there is a lot of fear,” says Harrison Broadhurst. “We decided to help remake their image.”
He and Christopher Rännefors launched BatBnB, a company devoted to building and selling better bat houses while educating consumers about the positive attributes of the world’s only flying mammal. After a Shark Tank appearance that garnered on-air investment, the two were named to the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 list. They have not yet quit their day jobs (Harrison is a senior designer at The Galante Architecture Studio; Rännefors is a sales manager at Google,) but they have grown BatBnB into the leading bat house business today.
Rännefors and Broadhurst’s idea was prompted by the 2016 Zika virus outbreak.
“All you saw was pesticides, and we knew that there are less harmful approaches to mosquito control.
“In 2017, we looked at what was out there. We found that most bat houses on the market are too small, they do not have the grooves bats need for a strong grip, do not provide the proper ventilation, have landing pads that are nowhere near big enough and they don’t have the caulking and sealant needed to keep out moisture,” Rännefors says. “Most are square, simple boxes that are not very good-looking. We decided to create a product that people would want to look at and that bats would actually use.”
Bats need protection, they say, for three reasons: their habitats are being destroyed by human development; they are suffering from white-nose syndrome, a disease caused by a fungal pathogen (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) that has caused populations to decline by about 78 percent; and many bats are being killed by wind turbines. Since bats only birth a single pup a year, rebuilding their population is an uphill battle. Researchers are calling white-nose syndrome “the most deadly wildlife disease of modern times.”
A well-designed bat house models their natural preferred nesting site, which is the peeling bark of a dying tree. It should be mounted in a sunny location away from trees or ledges where predators, like owls, can perch. Along with a cedar bat house, fasteners and hardware, BatBnB also furnishes customers with extensive information about the best places to put the bat house.
Mounted on the side of a house or barn, a bat house can house generations of bats that eat … [+]
Addressing the common fear of disease, Broadhurst points out that, of the 50,000 humans worldwide that die of rabies each year, 99% of those deaths originate with dogs.
“Rabies can only be transmitted by direct contact, and human contact with bats is very rare. The disease can only be transmitted via the bite or scratch from an infectious animal. Less than half of one percent of the bat population ever carries rabies, and those that do die off very quickly. In reality, bats contact rabies far less than other animals.”
Rännefors and Broadhurst were assisted in their efforts by noted American ecologist, conservationist, writer and wildlife photographer Merlin Tuttle, who specializes in bat ecology, behavior and conservation. He says,
“There is no documentation that Ebola, SARS, MERS, Hendra, or COVID-19 have ever been transmitted from bats to humans, though bats are often presented as the source of human infection. For people who don’t attempt to handle or eat bats, the odds of contracting any disease from them are extremely remote. People have learned not to kick beehives or run into yards guarded by unfamiliar dogs; they can just as easily learn not to handle bats.”
City neighborhoods, too, can be home to bath colonies.
As for the terrifyingly named vampire bats: they live in Central and South America, where they feed on the blood of cattle, horses, deer and wild pigs. They pose no threat to humans.
Bats are, in fact, a gardener’s best friend. Not only do they keep pests and insects under control, they pollinate flowers and carry seeds and they fertilize the soil for healthy plant growth.
“In addition to mosquitos, bats eat those other nasty bugs, like Japanese Beetles, stinkbugs, leaf hoppers, armyworm moths and more,” says Christopher Rännefors. “Yet, the species is under assault. They need our help.”
I learned about historic houses from the best: owners who lovingly preserved and restored them, and preservationists who shared their knowledge. When I first began to