What's Really Scary: A World without Bats

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.


Rainy Nights in Georgia (and Texas, Florida, and New Jersey) Help Frogs

Susan posed an interesting question to me yesterday. How has the record rainfall in the U.S. effected our amphibian friends? Humans have been somewhat inconvenienced by the cool, rainy summer of ’09—canceled picnics, damp weddings, rainy vacations, and decreased sales of ice cream. But as I’ve found out, all this rain has been a boon for amphibians. Here are a few stories from around the country:

Georgia: This summer Southwest Georgia was soaked with rain, but this helped researchers with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, who released over 1000 gopher frog tadpoles in a seasonal pond at a Nature Conservancy site. These rare stubby, nocturnal frogs spend most of their lives in gopher tortoise burrows and are found almost exclusively in the Coastal Plain’s longleaf pine ecosystem.The water level of the release pond was at its highest level ever, which will help the tadpoles survive, according to an article on the Early County News, GA website.

West Texas: It’s usually pretty hot and arid in the summer in West Texas. But in an article in the Odessa American (TX), Ken Broadnax explains how this dry land can be temporarily transformed into a wetlands. The playas, dry areas with hard clay bottoms, can store water for months. Amphibians bury themselves in the playa, emerging only when conditions are right. After a storm, within a day or two, the male toads emerge and begin their calls, seeking a mate. This summer, West Texans are hearing the unfamiliar sounds of croaking toads.

Florida: According to the AccuWeather blog, rainstorms around Memorial Day caused an excess of standing water, which created a breeding haven for the 30+ species of frogs in Florida. These rain-filled ponds called vernal pools lack fish because they eventually dry up, and so they are ideal nurseries for tadpoles (fish eat tadpoles). All those baby tadpoles from spring are now adult frogs—and there are lots of them. Frog calls are most abundant in the mating season, but they can be heard year-round in Florida for some species. So that’s why some Floridians are being kept awake this summer by the high-pitched calls of the Ornate Chorus Frogs, among other frog choirs.

Ornate Chorus Frog, photograph by Rebecca Meegan, Coastal Plains Institute and Land Conservancy

Ornate Chorus Frog, photograph by Rebecca Meegan, Coastal Plains Institute and Land Conservancy

New Jersey: This summer has been so wet in New Jersey that I’ve rarely had to water my garden. In the early summer, we found a slug in our kitchen almost every night. Maybe even the slugs were tired of the rain. While this rainy weather was depressing (it’s over, thank goodness), it was great for New Jersey amphibians like the endangered Pine Barrens tree frog, as reported in the Press of Atlantic City. The Nature Conservancy recently acquired some land in the Pine Barrens that contains many vernal ponds. Because of the record rainfall, one of these ponds now measures 30 feet, providing an excellent breeding area for the endangered tree frog.Vernal pools are disappearing throughout New Jersey because of overdevelopment. That gave me an idea…perhaps we can convince The Boss (aka Bruce Springsteen) to get involved in our cause!

Have you noticed an increase in frogs and toads in your area due to record rainfall?