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Batty Idea Fights Disease

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Ladybugs combat plant-eating aphids. Falcons patrol trash dumps to ward off pesky seagulls. Now, in another effort to let Mother Nature work her magic, residents of Weld County, Colo. are turning to bats to
provide a natural weapon to combat yearly outbreaks of West Nile virus.

Weld, which had 98 human cases of the virus last year, has been undergoing citywide spraying to exterminate the mosquitoes that carry the "neuroinvasive" West Nile — and to battle its status as the most affected county in the state. While the chemical approach to getting rid of the pests will continue, a more earth-friendly answer has come in the form of bat houses that were offered to residents by the Weld Health Department in May of this year.

The houses were constructed thanks in great part to county Boy Scout Rex Morgan, who came up with the idea of inviting bats into the neighborhood as part of his final project for the Scouts. Bats can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes a night, and despite the numerous superstitions — blood sucking included — that continue to blacken their name, the 100 bat houses that were made available in the county northeast of Denver all had been taken within a week.

The houses are now being hung from trees, poles, and barns across the county, and though the West Nile season has just begun, by September residents may be able to gauge how big of an impact their nocturnal friends are having on the spread of the disease.

Who knows? If all goes well, maybe bat houses will soon be rivaling bird feeders as our newest nature-friendly backyard installments.