In Griffis Sculpture Park near Buffalo, New York, Joyce Hwang’s “Bat Tower” stands 12 feet tall and includes a set of triangular, stacked segments held together with steel bolts. Walls are made of stained plywood panels arranged to leave spaces small enough for bats to enter. But Hwang’s unique bat tower was not only created to provide a new habitat for bats, it’s also designed to raise awareness about a plague called “white-nose syndrome,” which has killed more than one million bats over recent years, says the University of Buffalo.
White nose syndrome, which was first documented in 2006, got its name because of the white substance that forms on the bat’s muzzles when a bat is infected. Since it was discovered, “biologists and adventurers have found sick, dead and dying bats in and around caves and mines as far south as Tennessee and as far west as Oklahoma. More than 90 percent of bats in some hibernacula have died.” Some researchers think the syndrome may be similar to the colony collapse disorder facing bees and could be caused by pesticides.
While many just see bats as pests, they actually play a role in ecosystems: they are pollinators and control bug populations. Hwang, an assistant professor in UB’s School of Architecture and Planning, said: “White-nose syndrome is a major ecological crisis. Bats are animals that people practically consider to be pests, so there is a lack of desire to see them in the environment around us. But bats are a critical part of the ecosystem.”
To create a home bats would like, Hwang looked to the long tunnels inside caves for inspiration, writes the University of Buffalo. The inside of the tower includes many cave-like nooks and crannies. Interestingly, Hwang and her students planted “chives, oregano, and other herbs” bats love to eat at the base of the tower. The tower’s design and the plants seem to have worked. Since the structure went up during the summer, bats have moved in.
Hwang told Azure magazine she’s still tweaking the design based on how it reacts to the weather and the feedback she gets from the bats. “Now that it is installed, we are studying how it works: what creatures does it attract (bats or otherwise)? What is its internal temperature during different weather conditions? We’re also looking at how the structure will survive the extreme climate weather of Western New York. We will be making observations and finding ways to refine the design.” While the structure is beautiful, perhaps a standardized low-cost version will be in the works so more people can set up their own bat towers.
Hwang also has two additional models in development: “Pest Wall” will be a wall construction that would house bats and other unwanted creatures like spiders, and “Pest Pavilion,” will be a building with a pavilion designed for bats.
Also, habitat can be created by hand for other species and at larger scales, too. Learn more in a discussion of the restoration of Young Nick’s Head sheep farm’s ecosystem in New Zealand, which involved using nesting boxes, decoy birds, and looped tapes of bird calls to bring sea birds back to the restored area.
Image credit: University of Buffalo