In the fight against Zika, the bat may be the hero Miami Beach deserves and the one it needs right now.
Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez thinks so. She’s put a resolution on Wednesday’s City Commission agenda proposing the administration explore the possibility of putting a bat house in the Beach so the insect-eating mammals can control the city’s mosquito population. She’d like City Manager Jimmy Morales to report back on a potential pilot program Nov. 9.
Although bats can bring down mosquito populations in areas where no other food source is available, attempts to use bats as mosquito control have failed — most notably, right in Miami’s backyard.
In 1929, around mile marker 17, a prominent landowner in the Keys named Richter Clyde Perky built a 30-foot bat house in an attempt to rid the area of mosquitoes — essentially a luxury condo tower for the creatures that featured expensive, gourmet bat bait cooked up by an expert and imported to the island.
A 30-foot bat tower built at Sugarloaf Key in the 1920s never attracted any bats.
The structure, according to a 2012 article in The Atlantic, cost Perky some $10,000 to build.
But it failed miserably. The bait stunk up the place. The bats never moved in.
It’s tough to force bats to make their homes anywhere. There’s also debate over whether bats are effective as mosquito control, and it is unclear whether they would be effective at combating Aedes egypti mosquitoes, the species that carries Zika, which populates near dwellings.
According to a post on the website for a conservation group founded by bat expert Merlin Tuttle, bats can be one tool in a multifaceted approach to mosquito control, which could also include mosquito-eating fish and elimination of standing water.
According to the American Mosquito Control Association, studies that say bats can eat large amounts of insects at fast rates — like 1,000 mosquitoes per hour — are based on experiments where the insects are the only known food source.
There is no question that bats eat mosquitoes, but to utilize them as the sole measure of control would be folly indeed, particularly considering the capacity of both mosquitoes and bats to transmit diseases. American Mosquito Control Association
“Impressive numbers indeed, but singularly unrealistic when based upon a study where bats were confined in a room with mosquitoes as their only food source,” reads a FAQ by the association. “There is no question that bats eat mosquitoes, but to utilize them as the sole measure of control would be folly indeed, particularly considering the capacity of both mosquitoes and bats to transmit diseases.”
Rosen Gonzalez is introducing the concept in the wake of controversy over the aerial spraying of naled, an insecticide and neurotoxin that was wafted over Miami Beach four times in September in an effort to quickly knock down the population of adult Aedes egypti mosquitoes.
Zika-positive mosquitoes are still being found in South Beach. On Tuesday, residents at an eight-unit apartment building at 1236 Drexel Ave. were notified that a batch of insects collected nearby on Oct. 5 tested positive for the virus.
The proposed bat house measure, first reported by the Miami New Times, will be discussed Wednesday. The commission meeting begins at 9 a.m. at 1700 Convention Center Dr.