Believe it or not – it’s Bat Week!

Coincidentally Ohio Bat Week and International Bat Week are celebrated from October 24 through October 31 – just in time for Halloween! What is Bat Week? Bat Week celebrates the immense contributions that bats provide in nature and heightens awareness for bat conservation through education.

There are 13 species of bats reportedly found across Ohio, including the little brown and big brown bats. These mammals are essential for controlling insect pests, pollinating flowers, and spreading seed across wide areas. On any given summer night, you can see them flying about consuming their weight in mosquitoes, flies, beetles, and other insects. In fact, insects are the only thing that bats in Ohio eat. If bugs are out and about, bats are out and about too.

If you have ever sampled a margarita – you have bats to thank for pollinating and dispersing agave seed. Blue agave plants are the only plants used to make tequila!

History suggests that bats became associated with Halloween due to their dark coloration, nocturnal habits, and tendency to roost in caves and dark places. They can also be seen in large swarms this time of year looking for places to hibernate for the winter. Some bat species will fly south while others find more local retreats with moderate temperatures including caves and mines.

Fear not!  Bats are not the scary, blood-sucking creatures depicted in Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” or countless other vampire-themed tales and movies.  Rather, they are harmless, beneficial mammals that intentionally avoid human contact. Bats coexist around us generally without ever being detected. In some rare cases, you might cross paths with a bat.

Bats can enter homes and buildings through small openings or through open windows, doors, or cracks. The best way to prevent encounters with bats is to seal entry points and install one-way exclusion openings that allow bats to leave but not return. The extension office has a nice bulletin on excluding bats from buildings, so please call for a copy.

If you find a bat in your home or other living space, it is best to isolate it to a single room, turn off all lights, and leave a window or door to the outside open, The bat will leave on its own. I had a bat in the garage over the weekend, turned off the garage light and let the door open – and the bat was gone before morning.

Once excluded – it is a good idea to provide bats with a more suitable living space. Bat houses can be easily constructed or purchased. Place bat houses around your property to encourage bat-friendly habitats.

Bats can carry the rabies virus, though fewer than 4% of bats in Ohio have rabies. For this reason, it is advised to not touch or handle bats with bare hands as a precaution. If you are bitten by a bat it is wise to seek medical care immediately.

To learn more about bats in Ohio as well as other mammals, please visit The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Mammals of Ohio guide.

Bats are threatened by the loss of natural habitats due to development of land and deforestation, wind turbines, and pesticide use. For more information on bat conservation, please visit Bat Conservation International (batcon.org), Batweek.org, or the Extension office at 1206 East Second St. in Ottawa. You may also contact us by phone at 419-523-6294, email at scheckelhoff.11@osu.edu, or find us on Facebook by searching for OSU Extension Putnam County.

Leave the Leaves

Leaves across Northwest Ohio are near peak fall color. The brilliant shades of yellow, red, and orange will vanish over the next few weeks as leaves drop to the ground. One question often asked this time of year is “What should I do with all these leaves?”. As you might guess, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. It depends. Homeowners have many options for dealing with fallen leaves including mowing, mulching, composting – and just letting them be.

What happens when trees lose their leaves in a forest or a natural area? Fallen leaves generally form a carpet of sorts on the ground, keeping the soil moist and of moderate temperature. This in turn allows living organisms like animals and fungi to thrive. In fact, leaves provide winter protection for countless animals including butterflies and moths, beetles, spiders, among others.

Deciduous tree leaves are an excellent source of organic matter and fertilizer. Over time, decomposing leaves provide a slow release of nutrients, roughly 2% nitrogen, which can be used by plants for growth.

If you have turfgrass, mowing is a good option when the lawn is covered by a light layer of leaves. A lawn mower can quickly reduce fallen leaves into smaller leaf fragments that break down quickly. Mowing also eliminates wet, matted piles of whole leaves that can prevent grass from growing in the future.

One word of caution – rake and remove leaves from trees that have certain foliar diseases such as tubakia leaf spot on oak, tar spot on maple, or guignardia on buckeye.  Leaving diseased leaves in the landscape will keep the fungi around to possibly infect trees again next year.

Mulching can reduce large amounts of leaves in your yard. Leaves can be mulched and collected in a leaf bag attached to a mower or by using a leaf shredder. Applying several inches of leaf litter mulch to landscape or garden beds will help conserve moisture, moderate soil temperatures, and reduce weed growth.

Whole or mulched leaves can also be incorporated into the soil with a tiller to increase organic matter and improve soil texture, aeration, and drainage. Leaves can be broken down along with other yard wastes into compost. The composting process reduces these wastes into a nutrient-rich organic material that can be used in containers, gardens, and flower beds.

Finally, you can simply leave the leaves. Leaf piles provide ample winter cover for a wide variety of insects and spiders – and eventually add organic matter, nutrients, and improve soil health as they break down. What will you do with your leaves this year?

Crane Fly Craze

It’s a plane! It’s a bird! Actually, it is probably a crane fly. Crane flies have emerged over the past week across our area. We have received reports from homeowners and farmers of large numbers of mosquito-like insects covering lawns, walls, tractors and combines during harvest.

Crane flies are slender insects with long, lanky legs resembling mosquitos on steroids. They are not supersized mosquitos, but rather a type of fly. Crane flies have also been called “mosquito hawks” or “skeeter eaters” though neither name is accurate. Crane flies do not eat mosquitos, nor do they bite people or animals. In fact, most crane flies only have mouthparts that sip nectar or water during their short life span.

Adult crane flies live only a few days to a week. Their sole purpose is to mate and lay eggs for the next generation.  Though they may be bothersome today, they will likely be gone tomorrow or at least in the very near future.

Female crane flies lay their eggs in moist areas such as near streams and rivers, irrigated lawns, gardens, and landscapes, or any other suitable place. Eggs hatch to reveal larvae that resemble small worms. These tiny larvae are called leatherjackets and begin consuming plant material such as fallen leaves and plant roots.

One type of crane fly, the European crane fly, was introduced to the US from Europe and can be a troublesome pest of turfgrass. The European crane fly leatherjackets consume the blades and roots of turfgrass plants and can cause significant damage in large numbers. Larvae only requiring control if found in very large numbers feeding on turf roots. Crane fly larvae are a favorite food of many different bird species, and populations are often kept in check by birds. In the majority of cases, no action is required by homeowners or farmers.

 

Bees vs. Yellowjackets

Each fall, as apples fall to the ground, barbeque grills are fired up, and pumpkins don front porches – one insect often gets blamed for another’s pesky behavior. This article intends to clear up the misconceptions about honey bees and their “look alike” meddling cousins the yellowjackets. Both are beneficial insects, but one is more bothersome to you and me.

Ohio is home to numerous species of bees – some are native (like bumble bees, carpenter bees, squash bees, etc.) while others are not. The familiar honey bee is an example of an introduced species brought to America by European settlers nearly 400 years ago. One significant difference between native bees and honey bees is their lifestyle. Most native bees are solitary and live alone in a single nest while honey bees build large colonies made up of hundreds to thousands of bees.

You may commonly find honey bees and native bees on your flowers and vegetable plants. Bees are beneficial pollinators. They collect pollen and lap up nectar inside flowers then take these back to the bee hive where they will be stored as honey and bee bread. Pollen and nectar are their sole food sources providing carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals they need. Rarely will bees visit picnic tables to sample sweet or savory treats.

You might also find an occasional wasp in your garden. Wasps include hornets, yellowjackets, mud daubers, among others. They also visit flowers to drink the sweet, sugary nectar. Unlike bees, wasps are beneficial predators. They are carnivorous and have a diet made up of other insects, including caterpillars, spiders, flies, and bees. Yellowjackets will consume just about anything at your picnic table – from sugary sweets like soft drinks and fruit to savory steaks, hamburgers, and hotdogs. They are notorious for hanging around garbage bins and compost piles, sampling whatever is available.

Here are some key differences between bees and wasps to help you tell them apart. Bees are covered in hair, making them appear fuzzy or furry (see image). The hairs on a bee’s body collect pollen and help the bee to effectively pollinate flowers.  Wasps are smooth and shiny without noticeable hairs. Yellowjackets have yellow and black bands on their slender, shiny bodies. Their waists are also very thin compared to a bee.

Both honey bees and yellowjackets live in social colonies. Yellowjackets generally build a paper nest in the ground, but these can also be found above ground and inside cavities in walls and other areas. Honey bees nest in beehives made of beeswax, hollowed tree trunks, and in wall cavities, but never in the ground.

The honey bee is generally docile unless it is protecting it’s hive and growing brood of young bees. Once a honey bee stings someone or something, it dies. Wasps, on the other hand, are aggressive and search out their food. They can sting multiple times, making them a more formidable adversary.

Honey bees overwinter in their hives feeding on stored honey until the spring. Yellowjacket hives die out after several frosts, and only new queens survive the winter months. These queens will start new nests in the spring.

I am just finishing up a summer-long survey of native bee species here in Putnam County. All bee samples re being sent to Wooster next week for proper identification. I’m excited to learn about how many native bee species we found this year…and will report on that in the spring.  In the meantime, for more information on native bees, honey bees, and wasps, please visit OSU’s Bee Lab at beelab.osu.edu. There are so many wonderful resources for you there.