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Bats and birds may be assigned mosquito-eating mission

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

Bats and birds, like these Purple Martins, may be the deadly duo for MacDill's mosquitoes next summer.

Courtesy photo

Hollywood may be debuting "Batman -- the beginning" movie this summer, but next summer MacDill environmental officials may be presenting bats -- the flying mammals.

The bats, much like Batman, will be doing a public service by eliminating dangerous predators and keeping the population safer - in this case from blood-sucking mosquitoes.

While the project is still being studied, Lt. Col. Yolonda Geddie, commander of the 6th Public Health Flight, made the recommendation recently and bat houses in isolated areas of the base may become a reality as the soon as next mosquito season arrives.

And the bats are only the half of it. She also has made a pitch for considerably less creepy bug eaters in the form of Purple Martins, a bird species that can eat its weight in mosquitoes every day.

Colonel Geddie has been a proponent of natural mosquito control since arriving at MacDill three years ago, when she pushed to put a halt to aerial pesticide spraying on base in favor of cleanup efforts that eliminated mosquito breeding habitat. Public education, better environmental planning and drainage and other grass roots efforts in the MacDill community have been positive, reducing the need for spraying but more can be done and she believes bats and birds are the answer.

"I can look at my crystal ball and absolutely predict that this will be a dramatic improvement (in mosquito reduction)," she said.

Environmental experts in the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron are examining the proposal now, she said, and if all goes well, bat houses will be built in swampy areas by next summer to attract bats to the base, which has no bat population to speak of now.

The same technique would be used to attract Purple Martins, although the bird houses would be located in residential areas and outside various unit buildings around base.

"I have suggested that each squadron have bird houses," Colonel Geddie said. "They are great birds to have around and people like watching them and the birds like being watched and being around people."

The two-pronged assault of adding Martins and bats to the local wildlife population could add up to a more pleasant and safer place for those living and working at MacDill, she said. With encephalitis and West Nile Virus carried and spread by mosquitoes, having around a couple species that eat them by the thousands each day would be a major asset.

Jason Kirkpatrick, who heads the environmental division of the 6th CE, said he is looking into CE purchasing bat and Purple Martin house kits. The idea now is for squadrons and units to assemble and decorate the houses in unit or squad colors and place them near their buildings. Each sponsor would be responsible for keeping the houses maintained.

"It's more realistic with the bird houses than bat houses," said Mr. Kirkpatrick. "The bat houses have to be put in remote areas for the most part but the bird houses can go in developed areas."

He said Boy Scouts erected a couple of bat houses around Lewis Lake in the past but that they never attracted bats as planned.

"Bats are pretty picky about where they live and they don't like to move from where they are," Mr. Kirkpatrick said. "But once you get two or three of those guys to move in, the rest will come."

He said from what he has learned about Purple Martins, it appears that all that is needed is to build the bird houses and the birds will come. And they love snacking on mosquitoes.

"A healthy Purple Martin population in an area will keep mosquitoes at bay," he said. "They eat thousands (of mosquitoes) every night."

For those who may think bats are undesirable residents, he is quick to point out that Florida bat species are harmless and nothing like the large fruit bats or vampire bats of South America.

"They don't attack people or animals and they don't pose a threat to anyone," he said.

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