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Oct 4, 2009

Less than two months after it collapsed, the University of Florida's bat house is back in business.

And in case the bats don't get the idea, a sign on the structure helpfully says "vacancy" and "newly remodeled" in both English and Spanish.

"We're hoping for immediate occupancy," said Ken Glover, UF's pest management coordinator.

The structure, located across from Lake Alice, has been expanded in capacity to house as many as 400,000 bats. A second structure planned nearby - nicknamed the bat barn - would provide space specially designed to accommodate baby bats. The expanded structure eventually could include a bat cam filming the action.

Planners believe if they build it, more bats will come.

"It's like the 'Field of Dreams,'" said Louis Schilling, project manager for the repairs and new construction.

The original bat house was built in 1991 to address a problem with bats roosting in campus athletic facilities. The inside of the structure collapsed in August, killing about 100 bats. The massive number of bats inside - estimated to be more than 200,000 at the time - was believed to have led to the collapse.

"It was too successful," Schilling said.

Over the past several weeks, Glover said, displaced bats have been found in campus stairwells and hallways. He said larger numbers had to be cleared from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the College of Veterinary Medicine's Large Animal Hospital and the Health Science Center's Communicore building.

While they can be a pest, bats provide a valuable function in controlling insects. The old bat house's 200,000 inhabitants were believed to have consumed nearly a ton of live insects each night.

The repaired structure, for the time being, will house about the same number.

Schilling said new bays providing extra space are being tested, and, if successful, more will be installed to double occupancy.

"It's pretty expensive to do this," he said. "There's no guarantee that the bats will like the new bays."

The repairs have cost about $10,000 so far, with the new bays costing as much as $4,000 more, according Ed Poppell, UF's vice president for administrative affairs. The plans for the new bat barn are near completion and will be sent to contractors for a cost estimate.

The University Athletic Association, which paid for the original bat house, is providing $30,000 for the projects, and the Bacardi Corp., which funds the nearby Lubee Bat Conservancy in Gainesville, is providing $10,000, according to Poppell. Additional private money also has been raised, and more is being sought.

The repairs included reinforcing the structure, including strengthening a floor on the top section that was weakened by bat guano. The planned bat barn would eliminate that feature, allowing waste to drop to the ground and be collected for use as fertilizer.

The barn would provide more space for baby bats to fly around, Schilling said. It also would be two levels, he said, allowing bats to stay on the cooler lower level in the summer and the warmer upper level in winter.

If that wasn't enough, he said there also are preliminary discussions of having a camera inside the structure. Both workers and researchers could monitor the activities of the bats inside.

Schilling added the "vacancy" sign in English and Spanish as a nod to the possibility that Mexican free-tailed bats would roost inside. While the Brazilian subspecies is actually believed to be the major occupier of the bat house, there are no plans to add a Portuguese version.

"We'll just hope they're multilingual," Schilling said.

Visibility: Everyone
Posted: Sunday October 4, 2009, 8:00 pm
Tags: bats [add/edit tags]

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