West Kendall Girl Scout Builds Bat Houses to Fight Zika After Reading New Times Story

When installing a bat house, which is just like a birdhouse except with a slit-shaped hole for the tiny flying mammals, it's important to keep the box out of direct sunlight. Bats are notoriously temperamental, and if the lighting isn't quite right, the home could get too hot or too bright, and the bats might ignore the little hotel.

"You have to face the bat house either north or south," Maria Moscoso, a Girl Scout mother from West Kendall, tells New Times, after helping her 11-year-old daughter install a few of her own bat houses. "If you face it east/west, the sun will hit it, and you'll end up cooking your bats."

Proper bat care has become a topic du jour in Miami, where we can use all the mosquito-eating night fliers we can get. Gov. Rick Scott announced last week that the mosquito-borne Zika virus has spread from Wynwood to Miami Beach. While the county continues to bombard South Florida with various pesticides by air, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it expects small pockets of the virus to spring up sporadically around the county from now on.

So after reading a New Times story exploring whether attracting more bats to Miami would help cut down on mosquitoes without using pesticides, one local Girl Scout — Moscoso, a sixth-grader who also serves as an altar girl and plays volleyball — printed out the piece, took it to her homeowners association, and built three bat houses in West Kendall last Saturday.

"I have a neighbor who's a very inquisitive and creative person," Moscoso's mom, Maria, says. "She saw your article in New Times and called the house."

Though most bat experts who spoke to New Times agreed bats alone would not rid Miami of mosquitoes, pretty much all of them agreed they also can't hurt. They encouraged residents to safely build bat houses to attract a few more of the creatures to their neighborhoods. 

"My neighbor said, 'Michelle should build bat houses for her Silver Project!'" Moscoso says.

For Girl Scout Cadettes, who are typically middle-schoolers in their tween and early-teen years, the Silver Award is the highest honor they can receive. Earning the award requires taking a "Cadette Journey," which typically involves doing some sort of volunteer work and then completing their own "Take Action" project. Cadettes are supposed to pick a project that deals directly with an issue in their communities — for Moscoso, doing something to help fight Zika was obvious.

"She saw it as a way to help protect the community and reduce people's exposure without poisoning anyone," Maria Moscoso says. "We know it's not going to solve Zika, but it would definitely help if we built a few of these." It's not a matter of if Zika is coming to Kendall, she says. "It's a matter of when."

So, armed with some bat facts printed from the internet and a copy of the New Times piece, the Moscosos marched into their local homeowners association meeting this past August 4 and asked for permission to build the houses in her community's common area.

"The board was very supportive, very positive," Maria Moscoso says. "They thought it was a really cool idea, seeing the bats flying around." Moscoso says U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo also sent the family a tweet supporting the project.

Michelle then emailed Dr. Frank Ridgley, head of conservation and research at Zoo Miami, for some advice. He sent back some ideas as to where to place the homes, some tips about where to buy a proper bat house, and advice on which homes attract the most bats. The family then paid $200 total for three bat houses online and then bought a few posts to hold the houses.

This past Saturday, 12 volunteers — a mix of fellow Girl Scouts, parents, and relatives — spent four hours in the sun cementing the houses into the ground. Moscoso says the family hasn't noticed any bats moving in just yet. 

"The bat doctor from Zoo Miami said it could take a year for any bats to want to start roosting in the bat houses," she says.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.