Hang In There, Bats!

Having trouble sleeping? 

So do your friends, bats! Bats are a vital group to the ecology of mammals, representing 20% of their diversity with over 1200 species

Fruit-eating bats pollinate and disperse seeds for more than 50% of the rainforest, ensuring its vitality. Insect-eating bats control most of the agriculture pests in the United States and those pesky mosquitoes. They have seriously helped humans deal with Nipah virus, SARS, Ebola, malaria and other viruses

Some studies show that bats eat more than 70% of their weight in insects every night!

What does that even mean? According to Bat Conservation International, this would be about 1000 mosquitos in an hour. They don’t only eat mosquitoes either. Some bats even eat stinkbugs on macadamia nut farms, which are a major agricultural pest. In short, bats save lives. 

Texas loves them!

Braken Cave is known to have the largest bat roost in the world, with over 20 million. But, bats are suffering to stay alive elsewhere because of a fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome, wiping out populations in the U.S. and Canda. This fungus originating from Europe resides in more than half of the U.S. and five Canadian provinces. Some scientists even predict regional extinction of bat species from this fungus. The reason it is called White Nose Syndrome is that a white fungal growth becomes apparent on the bat’s muzzle and wings once infected. 

“The mortality is unprecedented in my experience, and I’ve been working with bats for 40 years.”

Thomas Kunz, Biology Professor and Director of Boston University’s Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology 

Since 2000 the leading causes of bat population decline has been from White Nose Syndrome and collisions with wind turbines. So how are we impacting their population? Climate change. Although it is unknown why White Nose Syndrome is spreading and killing more bats , we do know that fungus only grows at cold temperatures. In Albany, NY, people noticed that bats were flying during frigid days rather than hibernating in their caves and being nocturnal. As much as 97% of bat populations have thinned in the North East including New York, Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont. With climate change, weather patterns are becoming more extreme (like the polar vortex sending down Arctic winds to northern, mid-America). With colder weather, bats are likely to come out of hibernation early or offset their nocturnal sleeping patterns. Not only is this disruptive but it severely hurts their immune systems, potentially causing their inability to ward off the infections from White Nose Syndrome as effectively as they could.  

Bats help us fight infections, so let’s help them fight off infections too!