Bats are the unofficial mascot of Halloween. What festive decorations would be complete without the obligatory bat dangling from the ceiling?
Although some have a phobia of bats (we’re looking at you, Bruce Wayne), the real frightfest isn’t a cave full of bats, but a cave without them. In recent years, bat numbers have sharply decreased in a phenomenon that closely mirrors the colony collapse disorder that has decimated the bee population and the mysterious mass deaths affecting frogs.
The statistics behind the decline of bats are truly hair-raising. In the last few years, the population of bats has dropped by 90% due to the disease that’s eradicating our flappy friends in the millions: white nose syndrome.
What Is White Nose Syndrome?
White nose syndrome is caused by the fungus pseudogymnoascus destructans. The fungus is white, hence the name, and it grows over the hibernating bat. According to Bat Conservation International, the disease began in Eurasia, and it’s believed that it was accidentally transported to Northern America by humans.
It’s unknown exactly how the disease kills the bats, but it’s possible that the fungus disturbs the bats while they’re hibernating, waking them up. When bats are awakened during hibernation, they lose fat reserves, which causes them to die. But fat loss isn’t always a factor in bat deaths resulting from white nose syndrome. Another possibility is that the fungus damages bat wings, which are integral to the survival of bats. With damaged wings, they die.
Is There A Cure For White Nose Syndrome?
Sadly, there’s no known cure for the bats just yet. However, researchers at Georgia State University discovered that strain of Rhodococcus rhodochrous bacteria that may skill or slow white nose syndrome. Currently, the bacterial treatment is still in an early experimental phase.
A World Without Bats
All animals, from whales to tree frogs, make up an integral part of a delicate ecosystem. When the population of a species suddenly breaks down, it has a ripple effect on the entire environmental landscape. Bats play a particularly important role due to their ability to control the pest population.
Bats eat insects — a lot of them. In fact, just one little brown bat can eat 1,000 mosquitos in an hour. A pregnant female bat can eat 100% of her weight in insects every night! We know the dangers that mosquitos can pose — from malaria to Zika — and bats can play an important part in keeping the pesky insect population down.
But in a world without bats, we’re potentially adding BILLIONS of insects like mosquitos to the environment.
In South Africa, bats are responsible for eating over 100 tons of insects a year, which helps reduce pesticides used by farmers. In Texas, Mexican free-tailed bats eat corn earworms and cotton bollworm moths, which cause millions of dollars in damage to crops.
Before you splash out on “SAVE THE BUG-EATING BATS” t-shirts, don’t forget about fruit bats. Bats that feed on fruit and nectar also help pollinate 450 commercial crops which we depend on. These include bananas, peaches, mangoes, avocado, dates, almonds, papayas, cashew nuts, vanilla, and guavas. Not into fruits and nuts? You can also thank bats for tequila. No more bats, no more margaritas. No more chocolate, either. Bats also help pollinate the carob plant.
Save The Bats!
This Halloween, pay it back to the bats. Thank them for everything they’ve given us. Tequila. Chocolate. Batman. Here’s how to help:
- Avoid disturbing hibernating bats. Stay out of caves or other areas where you know bats like to congregate
- If you’re going camping, or going to areas where you may come into contact with bats, make sure you clean and disinfect your equipment first
- Build a bat-house for your yard! Here’s how
- Reduce outdoor lighting and tree clearing around your property
- Become a member of Bat Conservation International
Save the bats. Save the world. And especially — save the margaritas. Happy Halloween!