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Lure mosquito-loving bats with a sleek home designed in Lexington

Bat BnB for your backyard

Lexington startup makes eye-pleasing bat houses for your backyard to help bats and control mosquitoes.
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Lexington startup makes eye-pleasing bat houses for your backyard to help bats and control mosquitoes.

In the backyard, you want style: Your green grill. Your Bed, Bath & Beyond UK-themed tongs. Your neon-painted Adirondack chairs.

And of course, the big beautiful bat house that makes it possible to enjoy all of this with fewer mosquitoes.

No bat house, you say? Maybe you aren’t aware that bats, those little toothy furballs, can eat as many as 1,000 mosquitoes an hour, and they can raise their babies, also living in your bat bed-and-breakfast, to do the same.

Yes, the Bat BnB: The creation of two Lexington entrepreneurs who say that bats get a bad rap. In reality, “Bats want nothing to do with us,” Rannefors said.

Rannefors and his business partner are on a quest to make having bats in your backyard cool by building architecturally striking bat houses.

Rannefors and Harrison Broadhurst know that you can buy a lot of bat houses already, and some of them might be extremely inexpensive — which is fine, if you’re making them as a school project (which Broadhurst said his mom did, as part of her teaching in the Monticello Independent school district).

“We looked at the bat house market,” said Rannefors, whose daytime job is at MakeTime, an online marketplace to match companies that need things to be manufactured with companies that have surplus manufacturing capacity. “There are a ton out there, and they’re small and ugly.”

But these bat houses have a couple of differences: First, made individually of Western red cedar, they are more like works of art than your average yard item, such as a garden hose. Second, they’ve been designed with input from the men considered the Indiana Jones and Beyoncé of the bat world, according to Rannefors: Merlin Tuttle of Austin, Texas, the founder of Bat Conservation International, and Rob Mies of Pontiac, Mich., the executive director of the Organization for Bat Conservation.

“That’s part of what this is about, is education,” Rannefors said. “We want it (the bat house) to be something you don’t have to tuck away.”

The bat houses vary in size, but all feature “landing pads” for the bats and protected areas up above for bat housing and nursing of the young.

Isn’t it hot in that tiny enclosed area in high summer? Rannefors and Broadhurst said the bats and their offspring like it really warm — in fact, customers for the Bat BnB in northern states might want to add a coat of dark heat-absorbing paint.

The bat houses might not remove every mosquito from the vicinity of your home, but they are chemical-free and can be used as part of your mosquito-repellent arsenal.

The market for the Bat BnB isn’t huge so far, because it hasn’t formally launched. Rannefors and Broadhurst, who works at Nomi Architecture Design Fabrication, have installed one bat house at McConnell Springs and two near the dog park at Jacobson Park. Last Thursday, they were packaging one for shipment for a bat conservation group in Australia.

The two work on the bat houses after work at the Nomi wood shop.

One part of the marketing problem is getting people over bats’ public relations problem. From “Dracula” to “Twilight,” Rannefors said, people incorrectly associate bats with blood-sucking vampires, which isn’t the case among bats in the United States.

The Bat BnBs aren’t for sale yet, but they probably will be about $100, the two entrepreneurs said. If they can sell 2,000, they will consider their project successful and will look at other ways to make aiding wildlife more architecturally beautiful.

“We want to be something you don’t have to tuck away,” Rannefors said. “We’ve got to be the brand that’s better. (But) if we make no money, we inspired people anyway.”

Cheryl Truman: 859-231-3202, @CherylTruman

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