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Photo: Adult stink bug feeding on apple fruit; photo-credit: Hamilton. Photo: Big brown bats inside bat house; photo-credit: MacKenzie Hall. Photo: Bat eating moth; photo credit: Merlin Tuttle.

Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS1270

Ecological and Economic Importance of Bats in Integrated Pest Management

  • Brooke Maslo, Extension Specialist, Wildlife Ecology
  • Kathleen Kerwin, Program Associate, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources

Agricultural insect pests cost the U.S. agricultural industry $33 billion per year in crop losses, and destroy approximately 25–50% of crops worldwide. This trend continues despite an increased use of pesticides in recent decades on farms throughout the world. Broad-spectrum pesticides are dangerous to human health, degrade ecosystem function, upset carefully optimized integrated pest management (IPM) programs, and devastate natural insect predators and parasitoids. In addition, the World Resources Institute estimates that up to 400 agricultural pest species may have evolved some degree of pesticide resistance.

One effort to limit pesticide includes the use of biological control agents, which are living organisms that prey upon pest species. While proven effective in some cases, biological control comes with significant economic costs and typically offers only partial control. Biological control agents are typically non-native species and may have long-lasting negative effects on native biodiversity.

Native generalist predators can effectively serve as agents of biological control. Temperate insectivorous bats are highly effective generalist predators, and studies have documented the presence of many agricultural pest species in their diet. Especially during the summer months, when bats are raising young, female bats consume a significant proportion of their body weight in insects per day. Because they feed within a few kilometers of their roost site and return to the same roost every day, bats may play an important role in local suppression of agricultural insect pests.

What Do Bats Eat?

Identifying the insect prey of bats is challenging. Historically, biologists analyzed bat fecal and stomach contents, which involved visually identifying undigested insect fragments. Recently, molecular techniques have allowed identification of insect DNA from bat feces (guano), providing much better information about what a bat eats.

We now know that the majority of a bat's diet consists of moths (lepidopterans), beetles (coleopterans), flies (dipterans), cicadas and leaf hoppers, and true bugs (hemipterans). These orders of arthropods include many important agricultural insect pest species. Some prominent examples include corn earworm moth (Helicoverpa zea), cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa zea), spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata), western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera), and three stinkbug species: green stinkbug (Acrosternum hilare), brown stink bug (Euschistus servus), and brown-marmorated stinkbug (Halyomorpha halys). A detailed list of insect pests in New Jersey known to be consumed by bats is included in Table 1.

Table 1. Insect Pests in New Jersey Known to Be Consumed by Bats
Insect Pest - Latin Name Insect Pest - Common Name Bat Species That Consumes Pest Affected Crops
Abagrotis alternata mottled gray cutworm eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis)
northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis)
potato, tomato, tree fruit, strawberry
Abagrotis ipsilon black cutworm eastern red bat field corn, sweet corn, tobacco, turf grass, wheat
Acleris flavivittana masked leaf roller moth big brown bat
little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus)
roses, apples, pin cherries
Acleris semipurpurana oak leaf tier big brown bat
little brown bat
pin cherries
Acrosternum hilare (Chinavia hilaris) green stink bug big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus)
eastern red bat
hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus)
Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis)
wide variety of vegetable crops, grains, pome fruits, stone fruits
Agnetina capitate Mediterranean fruit fly little brown bat fruit
Agriphila vulgivagellus vagabond crambus moth big brown bat
little brown bat
Agrotis ipsilon dark-sword grass moth big brown bat vegetables, grains
Ambrosiodmus tachygraphus bark beetle big brown bat peaches, chestnut trees
Ambrosiophilus atratus ambrosia beetle big brown bat hardwood trees
Amphipyra pyramidoides copper underwing big brown bat blueberries
Anagrapha falcifera celery looper eastern red bat celery, lettuce
Apamea amputatrix yellow-headed cutworm eastern red bat grasses, vegetables
Apamea devastator glassy cutworm eastern red bat cereals, corn, grasses
Aptinothrips rufus thrips big brown bat cotton, cereals
Archips cerasivorana ugly-nest caterpillar moth eastern red bat trees (particularly aspen, birch and fruit)
Archips purpurana omnivorous leafroller big brown bat
little brown bat
Archips semiferanus oak leafroller moth eastern red bat
big brown bat
oak trees
Astylopsis sexguttata woodboring beetle big brown bat hardwood trees
Automeris io Io moth big brown bat cotton, berries, oak, sassafras, pear, rose
Blastobasis glandulella acorn moth big brown bat
little brown bat
Caloptilia coroniella fall armyworm little brown bat birch trees, aspen trees
Chrysoteuchia topiarius cranberry girdler eastern red bat cranberry, cool-season grasses
Clepsis peritana (Ptycholoma peritana) garden tortrix northern long-eared bat strawberry
Conotrachelus anaglypticus cambium curculio big brown bat orchard fruits
Crambus praefectellus silver-striped webworm eastern red bat turf grasses, cereal grains
Culicidae mosquitoes Indiana bat n/a
Curculio proboscideus primitive weevil big brown bat hazelnuts
Cyclocephala borealis northern masked chafer big brown bat turf grasses, corn
Cydia caryana hickory shuckworm moth big brown bat pecans
Cydia latiferreana filbertworm moth big brown bat hazelnut
Cydia pomonella codling moth big brown bat pome fruit, stone fruit, walnuts
Cyrtepistomus castaneus Asiatic oak weevil big brown bat
eastern red bat
Indiana bat
oak trees, chestnut trees
Dermestes lardarius larder beetle big brown bat stored grains
Desmia funeralis grape leaffolder moth little brown bat grapes
Diabrotica undecimpunctata spotted cucumber beetle big brown bat
Indiana bat
little brown bat
cultivated crops, flowers, cucumbers, squash, corn, soybean, cotton, beans
Diabrotica virgifera western corn rootworm big brown bat corn
Dibolia borealis plantain flea beetle big brown bat plantains
Dichomeris ligulella palmerworm moth big brown bat
little brown bat
apples, cherries
Drosophila spp. fruit flies eastern red bat
big brown bat
little brown bat
fruits, turfgrasses
Drosophila suzukii fruit fly big brown bat
little brown bat
berries, cherries, grapes, tree fruits
Eucopina tocullionana white pine cone borer big brown bat pine trees, seed orchards
Eumorpha pandorus pandora sphinx big brown bat grapes
Euschistus servus brown stink bug big brown bat
northern long-eared bat
wide variety of cultivated crops, grains, pome fruits, stone fruits
Euxoa tessellate tessellate dart moth eastern red bat pome and stone fruit, tobacco
Exomala orientalis Oriental beetle big brown bat
little brown bat
turfgrass, fruits
Frankliniella tritici eastern flower thrips big brown bat
little brown bat
cotton, vegetables
Grapholita molesta oriental fruit moth big brown bat stone fruit
Gyponana spp. Homoptera big brown bat
little brown bat
hickory trees, grapes
Halyomorpha halys brown marmorated stink bug big brown bat citrus, pome fruits, field corn, vegetables, soybeans
Harpalus caliginosus murky ground beetle big brown bat strawberries
Harpalus pensylvanicus PA dingy ground beetle big brown bat
little brown bat
Hypena scabra green cloverworm eastern red bat
big brown bat
corn, legumes
Japanagromyza viridula oak shothole leafminer big brown bat oak trees
Keiferia lycopersicella tomato pinworm big brown bat tomato
Lacanobia subjuncta speckled cutworm eastern red bat berries, cultivated crops, pome fruit, stone fruit
Lygus convexicollis plant bug big brown bat strawberries, alfalfa
Lygus lineolaris tarnished plant bug big brown bat
little brown bat
Lymantria dispar gypsy moth eastern red bat hardwood trees, cranberry
Malacosoma americana eastern tent caterpillar eastern red bat
big brown bat
various hardwood tree species
Malacosoma disstria forest tent caterpillar big brown bat
little brown bat
Mayetoila destructor hessian fly Indiana bat wheat
Megacyllene robiniae locust borer beetle big brown bat black locust tree
Melanotus spp. click beetle big brown bat
little brown bat
turfgrasses, multiple agricultural crops
Metcalfa pruinosa citrid flatid planthopper big brown bat
little brown bat
orchards, vineyards
Mompha stellella momphid moth little brown bat seed crops
Mythimna unipuncta (Pseudaletia unipuncta) armyworm moth eastern red bat
big brown bat
little brown bat
hay, barley, corn, oats, grass
Myzus persicae green peach aphid little brown bat vegetables
Noctua pronuba large yellow underwing eastern red bat cultivated crops, grasses, ornamental plants
Orgyia leucostigma white-marked tussock moth little brown bat oak trees, maple trees
Oxidus gracilis greenhouse millipede big brown bat potatoes, sugar, beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, strawberries, peas, beans
Pandemis lamprosana woodgrain leafroller moth big brown bat orchards
Parapediasia teterrellus bluegrass webworm moth eastern red bat
little brown bat
big brown bat
turf grasses
Paria fragariae strawberry rootworm little brown bat apple, peach, soybeans, corn, rye, oats, grapes
Patalene olyzonaria juniper twig geometer big brown bat juniper trees, cedar trees
Peridroma saucia variegated cutworm eastern red bat vegetables, legumes, corn, alfalfa
Philaenus spumarius meadow spittlebug big brown bat clover, alfalfa
Phyllophaga anxia cranberry white grub big brown bat softwood trees, hardwood trees
Phyllophaga spp. scarab/may beetle big brown bat
little brown bat
hardwood trees, soft wood trees, pome fruit, stone fruit, sweet potatoes
Phytocoris conspurcatus plant bug big brown bat fruits
phytocoris eximius plant bug big brown bat pistachios
Phytomyza gymnostoma leaf miner big brown bat leeks, scallions, onions
Platynota flavedana black-shaded platynota moth big brown bat apples
Platynota idaeusalis tufted apple bud moth big brown bat
little brown bat
pome fruit, stone fruit, various trees
Plodia interpunctella Indian meal moth eastern red bat stored grain
Prionoxystus robiniae locust borer big brown bat hardwood
Proteoteras crescentana twig borer moth little brown bat box elder maple trees
Proteoteras moffatiana maple shoot borer big brown bat maple trees
Proxenus miranda glistening rustic moth big brown bat cantaloupes, sugar beets, strawberries, sweet potatoes
Sitotroga cerealella angoumois grain moth big brown bat
little brown bat
Sonia constrictana constricted sonia moth big brown bat maple trees
Sparganothis sulfureana fruitworm moth big brown bat
little brown bat
Stegobium paniceum bread beetle/drugstore beetle little brown bat dried tobacco, dried what crops
Stenolophus lineola seedcorn beetle big brown bat
little brown bat
Stenotus binotatus plant bug little brown bat grasses, wheats
Sunira bicolorago bicolored sallow big brown bat cabbage, tobacco
Taniva albolineana spruce needleminer moth little brown bat spruce trees
Taylorilygus apicalis broken backed plant bug big brown bat
little brown bat
hardwood trees, coniferous nurseries
Thermobia domestica firebrat big brown bat
little brown bat
Tipula spp. leatherjackets big brown bat
little brown bat
turf grasses
Tolype velleda velleda lappet moth big brown bat apples, plums, ash trees, oak trees
Tylonotus bimaculatus ash & privet borer big brown bat hardwood trees
Udea rubigalis greenhouse leaftier eastern red bat
big brown bat
little brown bat
vegetables, legumes
Xylesthia pruniramiella Clemens’ bark moth big brown bat fruit
Xylobiops basilaris red-shouldered bostrichid big brown bat
little brown bat
Zale lunata lunate zale moth big brown bat cherries, apples

Economic Importance of Bats

Bats provide an important ecosystem service through pest consumption, which is valued at $22.9 billion annually in the United States. The economic benefits of bats are usually estimated by examining the reduction of pesticide use and avoided costs of crop damage. For example, bats in south-central Texas eliminate the need for at least one application of insecticides on cotton fields, and reduce larval damage to crops, resulting in a net benefit of $741,000 per year. However, bats also contribute more subtle indirect benefits. For instance, bats reduce fungal infections of corn, which in turn, reduces negative impacts on the livestock that consumes it. Pesticide reduction also limits environmental damage and human health risk.

Bat-friendly Agricultural Practices

Modifying habitats to support natural insect predators like bats, termed "conservation biological control," has become a valuable component of integrated pest management (IPM) programs. Big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) and little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) are the two species of bat most commonly found roosting in bat houses and man-made structures in New Jersey. Installing bat houses throughout a farm provides quality bat habitat for these species and can attract large maternity colonies if installed correctly.

Another bat-friendly agricultural practice is to support non-crop habitat such as woodlands, ponds, and meadows on the farm. While big brown and little brown bats do well in man-made structures, other species rely heavily on forested habitat. Maintaining tree lines and forest patches with a diversity of vegetation can help provide habitat for forest-dwelling species. Each bat species consumes a slightly different group of insects; therefore, supporting a diversity of bat species will help increase pest control benefits. In addition, avoiding deconstruction of old structures (i.e., barns) in which bats might be roosting, and keeping standing dead trees in place, can help maintain habitat availability for bats.


Researchers continue to use innovative methods to explore the role of bats as biological control agents. Increasing bat habitat on agricultural lands and in residential areas could promote insect suppression, as well as help to conserve these beneficial animals. For further information, please visit our website at or email us at


December 2020