Thirty-six attendees from eight states attended our second annual “Join the Nightlife” workshop, a unique collaboration organized by Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation (MTBC), in partnership with Swift River Pecans and Bat Survey Solutions. Participants praised it as a resounding success that left them with a newfound passion for conservation and sustainable agriculture.
Troy Swift, owner of Swift River Pecans and an MTBC Board Member, shared insights on eco-friendly pecan farming. Merlin Tuttle introduced the amazing world of bats and the use of bat houses. Janet Tyburec, the founder of Bat Survey Solutions, taught bat survey techniques and led a supplemental acoustic identification course using Sonobat software to identify bat echolocation calls.
“This workshop has a wide variety of topics covered, jam-packed into a fun and exciting weekend. Everyone involved is extremely knowledgeable and helpful and doing whatever they can to help the attendees gain as much as possible from the workshop. I definitely recommend it to both those getting started in the bat world and to those who already have experience.” -Workshop participant
Participants learned sustainable pecan farming techniques and the role of bats in pest control. They also learned how to attract bats to orchard bat houses—an area of increasing interest among pecan growers.
“We often say that agriculture benefits from bats as a ploy for bat conservation, but we rarely delve into the day-to-day challenges farmers face, the economic thresholds of crops, and the practical implications of eliminating pesticides.” -Workshop participant
On opening night, participants were spellbound, watching millions of free-tailed bats emerge from Bracken Cave. They were amazed to learn that these bats alone can consume more than 100 tons of insects, largely crop pests, in a single night. Daytime field trips provided hands-on learning from Troy about advances in environmentally improved pecan production. Evenings were filled with excitement as participants sampled bats using acoustic detectors, with six bat species detected acoustically and half confirmed using mist net capture.
What truly set this workshop apart was the remarkably demonstrated success of Troy’s orchard bat houses. All five strategically placed test locations in three orchards had attracted bats within six to 12 months. One house even reached full occupancy! The significance of this achievement cannot be overstated, as Merlin and Troy specifically designed these houses to shield bats from sweltering Texas heat waves. The most popular bat house, located on a pole in full sun, attracted its first 50 bats while temperatures soared to a scorching 102-107 °F, and occupancy continues to rise. Plans for these houses are available in our Bat House Guide.
We suspect that Troy‘s use of ¾”-thick, rough-sawn Pecky cypress wood helps shield bats from temperature extremes. This wood, salvaged after floods, rivals redwood for durability, is lightweight, and can last up to 50 years, even without paint. In Troy’s orchards, bats appeared to prefer unpainted houses early and late in the season, switching to painted ones during mid-summer heat. Painted houses remained lighter in color than those left unpainted, apparently making them cooler. The addition of metal roofs provided shade that further protected against overheating.
Thanks to our collaboration with Swift River Pecans and Bat Survey Solutions, we are establishing long-term research into how bat houses may help farmers reduce pesticide use. We are using genetic “barcoding” techniques to verify the species of bat house occupants and the insects they consume. Documenting the full impacts of bats in reducing crop pests will require many tests over the years, a challenging but crucial endeavor.
Our “Join the Nightlife” workshops are bringing together multiple disciplines interested in sustainable agriculture and conservation, from community scientists to environmental consultants, to demonstrate how bats can be nature’s partners in a brighter future. We hope you’ll join us in the fall of 2024! Stay tuned to our events page for more information.
“This training was exciting, eye-opening, and likely life-altering. As a herpetologist aspiring to broaden my interests and knowledge into other groups of wildlife and plants, this class really inspired me to want to work more with bats.” -Workshop participant