Text and photos by Peter Vankevich
Mosquitoes on Ocracoke are so important they have a board of directors.
The amount of these pesky insects in the village can vary due to natural weather/water cycles, seasons and the efforts of the Ocracoke Mosquito Control Board (MCB), which oversees mosquito control and drainage efforts in the village.
The MCB also has the authority to tax residents, and all property owners pay a yearly tax for mosquito spraying and control.
Whereas most of the control focuses on spraying in the village, controlling water flow and draining standing water where mosquitoes breed, the board has come up with another means.
“We had some residents inquiring whether we had any non-chemical means of helping to mitigate the mosquito population,” said Justin LeBlanc, board chairman.
One of those residents was Sue Dayton, owner of Roxy’s Antiques.
“Bats are the natural way to get rid of pests, especially since the full health and environmental risks associated with using insecticides, even at low doses, is not fully known,” she said.
“Some of the old-timers said there used to be more bats on the island than there are these days so maybe we can get their numbers back to what they used to be. The more bats, the fewer mosquitoes,” LeBlanc said.
So, the board asked the Ocracoke School’s shop class if they would build bat boxes.
“They readily agreed and we provided the materials at cost, which was very inexpensive,” LeBlanc said.
Jeff Schleicher, the school vocational teacher, thought it was an excellent project for students to learn how to build the boxes, get experience using some new tools, learn about bats and provide some community service.
After five students built 18 boxes and the MCB posted that on its Facebook page, 17 boxes were taken within a day.
The student carpenters are Ingrid Contreras, Reese Gaskins, Paul Jordon, Lupita Martinez and Mackenzie O’Neal.
The number of mosquitoes bats consume varies depending on other insects at a given time. According to Mother Earth News, a single bat can eat up to 1,200 mosquito-sized insects every hour, and each bat usually eats 6,000 to 8,000 insects each night.
Bats have a bad reputation because they have been associated with rabies. This is not necessarily the case, yet people should bat-proof their houses by blocking holes where they can enter.
According the Center for Disease Control, human rabies death cases in the United States are rare, with only one to three cases reported annually and provides important information if someone is bitten by a wild animal here. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission says rabies is not very common in bats.
It’s important to remember that any animal acting unusual could be rabid and to use caution when encountering one.
“We are trying to reach out to a bat biologist at N.C. State but they haven’t gotten back to us yet,” LeBlanc added. “We would love to get someone on the island that can help with how to attract bats.”
The MCB also looked into Purple Martin boxes, but learned that mosquitoes are not one of their preferred choices.
“In fact, they consume other insects which do feed on mosquitoes, such as dragonflies, which do eat mosquitoes,” LeBlanc said.
Bat Conservation International says the boxes can be mounted onto buildings, preferably 12 to 20 feet from the ground, that are exposed to sunlight during the day and in a dark area at night — not near porch and security lights.
They should be placed at least 20 to 25 feet from the nearest tree branches, wires or other potential perches for aerial predators. It’s best to install them before the bats return in spring.