When it came to earning their Silver Award, which encourages scouts to complete a project that helps their community, Girl Scout Troop 51978 from Westmont, Illinois, decided to support bat conservation. They contacted Illinois Natural History Survey associate mammalogist Tara Hohoff, who coordinates the Illinois Bat Conservation Program and conducts bat surveys for the Urban Biotic Assessment program (UBAP).
Illinois’ 13 bat species fill an important role in our ecosystem. Because these bats are all insectivores, they help reduce the number of annoying mosquitoes and flies and also eat insects that can cause crop damage. A recent study from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale estimated that globally bats provide $1 billion of crop protection for corn alone.
Bats in Illinois are facing increasing challenges, from the deadly white-nose syndrome (a fungus that can kill bats as they hibernate) to wind turbines to fewer old, decaying trees that are suitable roosting places for bats.
With help from Hohoff, Girl Scouts Cali, Kylee, Lily, Rosemary, Charlotte, Erin, Jo-Dee, and Jadyn, and troop leaders Anne Oiler and Dawn Johnson, decided to build rocket-box style bat houses to provide roosting habitat for local bat populations. UBAP in conjunction with the Illinois Tollway contributed materials for the project, and the troop also held a garage sale to raise funds.
The scouts built seven bat boxes. Four will be installed in nearby towns and three will be used at a UBAP project site. The UBAP plans to continue working with the troop to monitor the bat boxes for occupancy over the next few years.
On Oct. 14, Hohoff attended the troop’s bridging ceremony to celebrate their Silver Award. Hohoff gave a presentation on bats, including why this is a critical time for bat conservation and how the troop’s contribution can help local bats. The troop participated in the Becoming a Junior Bat Biologist activity, which gave them a hands-on look at what it is like to catch bats (in this case, stuffed plush bats, not live ones) using mist nets.