Are bats in danger?
The answer is most definitely yes! And it is mostly our fault. Considering the many beneficial effects that bats have on our lives, we are not repaying them very well. Worldwide, bats are threatened or endangered by the stresses related to loss of habitat, and in some countries, hunting of bats for food. In more developed countries, threats to bats include pesticide poisoning, collisions with energy-producing windmills, and, of course, climate change. In recent years, the most important concern for the health and well-being of bats has been the emergence of White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease which has killed millions of bats that hibernate in some caves and old mines. This disease was first discovered in 2006 in Eastern North America, and by late 2014 had been documented in five Canadian Provinces and twenty-five states in this country, as far west as Missouri. This fungus has been found on seven species of bats, two of which are endangered. It kills them during hibernation by destroying their skin cells, depleting their fat reserves, and causing them to become dehydrated. The bats basically starve, because there is not much insect activity during hibernation season, even if they awakened and had the strength to hunt. We can only hope that the scientists studying this disease will find an answer soon.
Bats are so important to the health and well-being of their ecosystems that it is important for us to help them as much as possible. As mentioned in the previous article, bats eat a huge number of insects every night. This not only protects crops, but decreases the need for pesticides, which saves the farmers money and also partially protects the food chain. If a grown person ate a comparable amount of food, they would be eating about 150 pounds of fries or 50 large pizzas! Every night! Bats are important as pollinators, visiting night-blooming flowers in their search for insects.
Tropical bats are also nectar feeders which induces them to pollinate the plants, providing genetic diversity, and helping to regenerate rainforest trees.
Some lesser-known benefits provided by bats are from scientific study. Scientists have studied certain bat hormones in birth control research (Small bats mate in fall, but do not become pregnant until spring). Bats’ sonar system has been used as a model for work with the blind, and Vampire bat saliva has been studied as an anticoagulant, which can have many medical applications
How can we help bats?
Make your yard bat friendly. Provide a water source. Plant flowers and herbs that attract night-flying insects. Leave dead trees standing, if possible. Lights in your yard will also attract the insects that the bats dine on. Avoid the use of pesticides, herbicides, or any toxic chemicals. Pesticides travel all the way to the top of the food chain! (That is us!) Let your neighbors know that for every garden pest, there is a natural predator. Consider building a bat house. Learn more about bats.
Contributed by HCNH Naturalist Sandy Stoecker