The bats emerge at the Singing Water Vineyards each summer night to wreak havoc among the insects that swarm around rows of merlot, Syrah and pinot grigio grapes in the Texas Hill Country. The insect-eating crew is drawn to the vineyard by three cozy bat houses.
Dick and Julie Holmberg began growing wine grapes in 1998, a project that quickly blossomed into a commercial winery on the property near Comfort, Texas. Dick says he became interested in promoting bats after reading that the flying mammals eat leafhoppers, “which are known to transmit Pierce’s disease, which is devastating to the wine industry.” So they installed the bat houses. Bats moved in about a year later.
“We’ve always tried to promote an organic approach to our operation and use as few chemical applications as possible,” Holmberg said. “I don’t know if it’s because of the bats themselves or in combination with our light use of some pesticides, but so far we’ve never had Pierce’s or any other insect-related disease here at the vineyard.”
Grapes, an important crop around the world, are bedeviled by an assortment of pests and pathogens. Bats, meanwhile, are primary predators of night-flying insects, including many pests cause billions of dollars annually in damage to crops and forests. The diets of various bat species include a staggering array of moths, flies, beetles, froghoppers (spittlebugs), leafhoppers, plant hoppers, grasshoppers, stinkbugs and cicadas. And researchers have documented that insects often avoid areas where bats are foraging.
Both evening bats and Mexican free-tailed bats roost in the Singing Water bat houses. The two species have different habits and diets and, together, they consume a range of insects.
The Holmbergs are devoted ambassadors for bats, touting the benefits of their “night-time helpers” to customers, family and friends. This fall, BCI plans to help the Singing Water Vineyards erect larger bat houses that should bring still more bats into the operation.
Whether bats effectively control insect-transmitted Pierce’s disease remains unknown, and research is needed to fully demonstrate the importance of bats to the wine industry. But in the meantime, having bats around can only help – and they will always find a home at Singing Water Vineyards.
BCI Members can read the full story of the bats of Singing Water Vineyards in the Fall 2009 issue of BATS magazine.