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September 2015
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November 2015

October 2015

Using microbat roosting boxes to manage mozzies

Microbat_roost_box_milkwood

The mosquito season is about to begin. I'm one of those fortunate people that mosquitoes don’t like the taste of. My husband isn't so lucky. A husband bothered by mozzies isn't much fun – so I'm preparing our natural mosquito control arsenal.

Mosquito coils aren't part of our mozzie control kit.

Smoke from mosquito coils contains carcinogens and fine particles that can damage your lungs.

Studies investigating the harmful components of mosquito coil smoke suggest that sitting in a closed room with a burning mosquito coil is equivalent to smoking anywhere from 51 to 137 cigarettes.

Popping a mosquito coil by your table while enjoying a barbecue is as hazardous as having a chain smoker sit at your table.

Thankfully there’s a less toxic way to reduce mosquito numbers – tiny, cute microbats.

In contrast to their larger fruit-eating cousins (flying foxes or fruit bats), microbats eat only insects.

They have a voracious appetite.

One microbat can eat thousands of mosquitoes in a night.

The benefit of microbats doesn’t stop at mosquito control – they also eat many garden pests including moths, beetles, aphids, weevils and crickets.

You can encourage microbats by providing them with roosting habitat.

Most microbats roost in trees – in cracks, fissures, hollows and under bark.

Trees with cavities suitable for microbat roosts are typically old or dead.

If you have an old hollow-bearing tree in your neighbourhood consider yourself fortunate because it’s likely to house any one of Australia’s 80 species of microbats.

The trouble is, old or dead trees are often removed from residential areas for safety and aesthetic reasons.

Combine targeted tree removal with large-scale clearing of native vegetation, and microbats are running out of places to roost.

Thankfully, many microbats don’t mind living in artificial roost boxes.

How_to_Build_a_bat_box_Milkwood

We've made one roost box so far and plan to make many more.

It’s a good idea to install multiple boxes because microbats prefer to move between multiple roosts to confuse predators.

Microbat_roost_box_entrance_Milkwood

If you want to specifically encourage mosquito-eating microbats (rather than larger microbats that eat larger insects like moths), you need to ensure the entrance to your microbat box is no more than 12 millimetres wide.

Microbats prefer entrances that are only just big enough for them to squeeze through – larger entrances are also likely to let predators inside.

Different-sized entrances will attract different species. The smaller microbat species are more likely to feed on mosquitoes – whereas larger species feed on larger insects like moths.

 

Microbat roost boxes are relatively easy to make for someone with a little woodworking experience.

I share how we made our microbat box over on the Milkwood blog. 

They can also be purchased. But a word of caution – some commercially available bat boxes are simply ornamental and are not suitable as microbat roosts. Typical faults include being too small, not being made of durable timber or hardware, and having entrances that are too large. I share links to a few suitable commercially available microbat boxes in the Milkwood article

There are three things that can potentially undo all your good work encouraging microbats: pesticides, electric insect buzzers and cats.

Pesticides and electric insect buzzers don’t just kill annoying mosquitoes or garden pests – they also kill beneficial insects and leave microbats with little to eat.

Microbats are easy prey for household cats. They are stationary during the day and in winter they can go into torpor (like mini-hibernation). Even those cats that owners claim "could never catch a thing" can easily catch a microbat in torpor. Keeping your cat inside night and day, or in an outdoor cat run, will help protect microbats and other wildlife.

More information on microbats and building a microbat box.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 26th October 2015.

 


Getting up close and personal with nature at Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounters

Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounters Bobs Farm Port Stephens Australia Little eco footprints

I usually feel a little uncomfortable when I arrive at a zoo or animal park for the first time. I worry that I may be supporting the inhumane treatment of wild animals. But each time I've visited a zoo or park in recent years I've been pleasantly surprised and have left inspired and reassured.

Our children need to get up close and personal with wildlife in order to care for their environment.

They are not going to care about nature unless they know nature.

We recently visited Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounters at Bobs Farm, Port Stephens.

You can safely get up close and personal with wildlife that you would usually not want to encounter – stingrays and sharks.

Little Eco walked away from the experience buzzing with confidence. She also walked away with an awareness of how she can help conserve our marine environment – an awareness far greater than what she would have gained from reading dozens of books or watching a suite of documentaries. Nothing compares to real-life experiential learning.

The kids changed into the wetsuits provided and popped on a pair of water shoes, the latter to hide wriggling toes so that they were not accidentally mistaken for little fish.

Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounters aqua nursery pool. Little eco footprints

First stop was the aqua nursery pool, teeming with juvenile sharks and rays. 

Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounters aqua nursery pool shark and ray feeding_ Little eco footprints

Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounters aqua nursery pool shark and ray feeding2_ Little eco footprints

Little Eco and her friends nervously reached into the water with their feeding sticks.

Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounters aqua nursery pool swimming with sharks and rays_ Little eco footprints

They eventually went into the water, standing waist deep while one-metre-long sharks swam around their legs.

They didn't last long, quickly retreating to the shore.

I enjoyed watching their confidence grow as the guide revealed more information about the ecology and conservation of sharks and rays.

Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounters Ray Lagoon_ Little eco footprints

Second stop was Ray Lagoon, where they could get into the water with larger adult rays.

Their fear evolved into awe and they stepped a little deeper into the water so that they could touch a huge, two-metre, smooth ray that felt like "slimy sandpaper".

Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounters Fiddlers Flat Little eco footprints

By the time Little reached the next stop – Fiddler’s Flat – all fear had dissolved and she was in love.

"Look how cute they are," she said, sitting in the water among dozens of juvenile Fiddler Rays.

There was a roped off area where the rays could retreat to, but interestingly they didn't seem bothered by all the children and seemed to be curiously exploring their visitors.

Little Eco confidently stepped into the last pool, not even hesitating when she put on a pair of gloves "so that the big sharks don’t think my fingers are fish and bite them off". She got to pat Fluffy, a three-metre Tawny Nurse Shark, and heard all about the devastating impact pollution and overfishing are having on our marine environment.

I was impressed with the quality of interpretive information provided by our guide.

A few days after our visit I asked Little Eco what she learnt:

"Don’t litter. Pick up rubbish when you see it.

Don’t eat flake because it is shark and many sharks are going extinct. And shark is poisonous [she’s referring to mercury accumulation in large and long-lived fish].

Sharks and rays don't want to hurt us. They are really important and if we want fish we need to leave sharks in the ocean."

They're pretty important take home messages. And our guide obviously did a good job explaining the key conservation issues if an eight year old can still remember them days later. 

I know my comments about eating sustainable food or avoiding plastic often don’t make sense to Little Eco. I'm grateful that her encounter with some of our ocean’s majestic creatures has helped her see the connection between her actions and the health of our planet.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 5th September 2015.