Teen using bats to fight West Nile virus

By

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) — Seventeen-year-old Tyler Solis is helping the city of Kokomo protect the area bat population and curb the mosquito population at the same time.

Solis, a Kokomo High School senior, built 14 large bat houses and 10 small ones that will be placed in area parks as part of his Eagle Scout project.

Former Kokomo Parks Superintendent John Martino gave him the idea for it since bats eat mosquitoes and cases of West Nile virus from mosquito bites are on the rise statewide, Solis said.

It's a natural approach to mosquito control, Tyler's father, Manuel Solis said.

"Why fight nature with pesticides when you can fight nature with nature," he told the Kokomo Tribune (http://bit.ly/1fdbMLA ).

According to the National Wildlife Federation, one bat can capture 500 to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour.

Solis' boxes will be hung from trees in Northwest Park, Mehlig Park, Jackson Morrow Park and Reservoir Park.

Current Kokomo Parks Superintendent Randy Morris said those are the parks most in need of mosquito control. Reservoir Park is surrounded by water and is the city's most rural park, and Jackson Morrow Park is near a watershed.

Even if the boxes don't eradicate mosquitoes, they will at least provide a comfortable place for bats to hang out, and that's important, too, Tyler Solis said.

"While I was doing research, I noticed that white snout disease was killing a lot of our bats," he said. "The caves around here are infected with it."

The boxes look similar to bird houses - only without the circular entrance on the front. The opening is on the bottom of the box.

Tyler Solis turned one of the houses upside down Thursday to show that the whole bottom was open with four dividers on the inside creating narrow openings less than an inch wide.

"I didn't think they could fit through that space," he said. "But it turns out they can do it easily."

According to the National Wildlife Federation, bats like the tight spaces. Tyler Solis just had to make sure the space inside was rough enough that bats could cling to it with their claws.

He also painted the boxes black and put a trap door on the small ones to attract and hold in as much heat as possible to keep the bats warm.

The teen invested about 35 hours of his own time into the project. Much of that was spent researching box designs and learning about bats.

He consulted with the Howard County environmental scientist, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Then he enlisted help to build the boxes. A team of volunteers created an assembly line to put them together.

When you factor in the volunteer time, the whole project took 167 hours, Tyler Solis said.

Morris said the boxes will be installed as soon as the weather warms up. They'll be a nice addition to the parks around here, he said.

"Giving any kind of native creature a place to hold up residence is a good thing," he said.

___

Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com

©2014 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.