If you want bats, find ways to attract moths to your garden.

03.12.24

By Paul Hormick

With spring, many of us eagerly anticipate planting and working in our gardens. The avid gardener may be happy to learn these spaces that reinvigorate us with beauty and provide us with fresh fruits and vegetables can also benefit bats. A few extra plants and alterations to your backyard can transform your garden into a haven where bats feast and thrive.

Townsend’s Big-eared Bat, Michael Durham/Minden Pictures

About 70 percent of all bats eat insects. So, it makes sense that increasing the number of insects around your home would help bats. As most moths are nocturnal, they can be the ideal insects to promote bats. Moths themselves can also be fascinating. Some possess beauty comparable to butterflies and others behave in interesting ways. White-lined sphinx moths capture the attention of many North American residents, as they bob around flowers like hummingbirds.

The bad news: moth populations have declined by 85 percent in the last 70 years. We know of at least ten species of moth to have gone extinct during that time. Pesticides and habitat loss, along with climate change, share the blame for the decline. The good news: with the right kind of gardening, you can help moths, and by extension, bats at the same time.

Plant Native

As they are adapted to living together, planting native plants in your garden or landscaping is the best way to promote butterflies, moths, and other pollinating insects. And it doesn’t take much. Researchers in Italy studying two rare species of moths found that these species could live in farmland, suburbs and other urban settings, as long as there were some semi-natural habitats within those areas. The scientists surmise that the natural areas serve as habitat where the moths live their entire egg-caterpillar-adult lifecycle or work as corridors through which moths travel and migrate.

Little Brown Bat. Michael Durham/Minden Pictures

So even if you’re in the middle of suburbia, miles away from open forests or grasslands, a few native plants in your backyard can make a big difference. Butterflies and moths rely on flowers for their nectar, but when these insects are in their larval (or caterpillar) stage, they rely on specific plants for their food. You can find resources in your area or contact the Xerces Society for more information on the species in your area and the nectar and host plants they need. Many native moth host plants have flowers that support daytime pollinators as well.  Some states, like Missouri, have conservation departments devoted solely to moth conservation. Also, each state in the U.S. has a native plant society. Someone associated with your local chapter may be able to suggest good plants for moths. There are similar organizations throughout the world.

Flowers

Canyon bat. Michael Durham/Minden Pictures

If you aren’t one for planting natives, or if you just prefer to keep your flower garden, you can still attract moths with cultivated flowers. Light colored and pale flowers reflect the light of the moon better than red, purple, or yellow flowers and are thus an easy find for most moths. Moths also like jasmine and honeysuckle varieties. Garden flowers that attract moths are four o’clocks, heliotrope, and sages. Many species of tree that attract moths, such as cherry and dogwood, are garden and backyard favorites. Other trees and shrubs that attract moths are oaks, hickory, peach, and apple.

Reducing Light

As it related to your garden and landscaping, consider going over to the dark side and reduce the amount of outside light. Night lights interrupt the lifecycle of many moth species. Light can also disrupt the circadian rhythm, physiology, and behaviors of bats.

Water

Bats get much of their water from their food, but they also need a water source. Bats drink on the fly, catching a sip as they swoop over a pond or other body of water. A lot of folks think that a birdbath is sufficient, but they don’t provide enough space for this swoop and drink behavior. Ideally, a water source for bats is from seven to ten feet long (a little more than a tall person lying down). The pond or trough should have a gradient in and out of the water, giving bats or other creatures a way to climb out if they fall in. The sides of the water source should also be clear of vegetation, giving bats a clear fly line as they dip for their sips. Be sure to add a wildlife ramp to any water source just in case an animal falls in by mistake!

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