It’s almost Halloween and what animal is more associated with this spooky holiday than any other? The answer isn’t frogs, it’s bats.
Unlike frogs, however, which seem to have lots of human friends and supporters, bats have few. Most people find them pretty creepy. They’re associated with vampires and other scary things.
I learned about bats many years ago when I lived in Ohio. When I visited friends’ homes out in the country, bats would often emerge at sunset, and they were quite beautiful, flying up into the sky. I also watched a swarm of bats emerge at sunset from Carlsbad Canyons in New Mexico (see video below), a daily natural spectacle.
Did these bats make a beeline for the humans so they could bite them and suck their blood? No. They ignored us humans completely, focused instead on finding some tastier prey—mosquitoes and other insects.
Unfortunately bats seem to be sharing the fate of frogs and bees—they are vanishing because of a mysterious fungal disease. As Sandra Steingrabber writes in Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis: “The possible contribution of pesticides and climate change to the bats’ malady is a topic of discussion among field biologists—as is the synchronous vanishings of fungal-afflicted honeybees and frogs.”
In 2006 scientists found hundreds of dead bats inside several caves across the country—all had white muzzles, the result of a fungus. Bats with this white-nose disease were subsequently found in 115 different caves from Tennessee to Quebec. The fungus grows on the exposed skin of a hibernating bat and causes the bat to wake up, behave strangely, and burn up its fat reserves, thus starving to death.
The disease has claimed the lives of a million bats across 19 states. More than half of the bat species in the United States are in severe decline or are listed as endangered.
A World Without Bats
So what would the world be like without bats?
Imagine being swarmed by insects and bitten by mosquitoes from head to toe. Imagine pests wiping out agriculture across the country, causing produce prices to go up.
If the decline of bats continues these scary scenarios could be our reality.
We need these spooky, fast-flying mammals that can eat 1,200 insects in an hour, protecting us from the West Nile Virus and other deadly diseases.*
So this Halloween, amid all the Batman and vampire costumes, don’t forget that bats are pretty amazing—and important—animals that need our help. One way you can help bats is to build a bat house. Here’s some information from the National Wildlife Federation.
Here’s a video of Mexican free-tail bats emerging at sunset at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, to eat their evening meal of millions of insects:
For more information:
From the Incredible Disappearing Bat, Nature Conservancy site.