No Belfry? How About A Bat Condo?

THE HOUSING MARKET FOR bats is flying high. This has nothing to do with Batman Forever. Bats are suddenly popular because people now realize the winged ones consume huge amounts of bugs. A single brown bat eats 600 insects per hour.

So bat-house builders are doing a good business throughout skeeter country, from the wetlands of East Texas to the bogs of Maine. Demand for the houses, which range from microwave-size bat-chelor pads to multichambered abodes as big as refrigerators, has expanded tenfold since 1990 at Coveside Conservation Products in Gay, Maine. The dwellings have made their way to Nature Co., Brookstone, and Wal-Mart outlets. Houston's Vida Products, which makes 1,000 bat houses a day, charges $29.95 for a 15-bat domicile and $89.95 for a 100-bat one.

The bat-house boom is strongest in Mineral Wells, Tex., where a conservation-minded entrepreneur has sold them to dozens of downtown businesses. Organic farmers in California's walnut groves are using bats as a sort of nontoxic insecticide. Last year, Motorola spent $10,000 to house 5,000 of the flexible fliers around its Austin (Tex.) plant to keep bugs from annoying employees. Says structural engineer Gwen Turner: "We owe bats here a favor."

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