By Mary TuckerThousands of bats are dying in New York, Massachusetts and Vermont, I learned from an article in the February 16th issue of The Daily Star. My first inclination was to say, “Good, who needs bats in and around homes?” Bat stories abound: how they tangle in long hair, bite, and spread germs and rabies, so I decided to learn more about these creatures to understand why we should be concerned about their deaths. Listed below are some myths and facts about bats.
Myth: Bats are flying rodents that multiply rapidly.
Fact: Bats are mammals who nurse their young as other mammals do. Due to the loss of their habitat, a fungus affecting them and individual killing of bats, their population has steadily declined about 30% in the last fifteen years.
Myth: Bats are dirty blood suckers.
Fact: Bats groom themselves much as cats do. Of 950 species of bats throughout the world (about 40 species in the United States) only 3 species eat blood and rarely human blood. They do not have a high incidence of rabies nor any interest in human hair.
Myth: Bats are blind
Fact: There are 2 main groups of bats, mega-bats who have big eyes used to navigate and find food, and micro-bats who navigate and hunt by echolocation. These give off sound waves, inaudible to human ears, which bounce off objects and echo back, allowing bats to fly safely. This is a true story: Somehow a bat got in our kitchen when a long haired preteen girl was present. Believing that bats tangle in long hair, she gave a long piercing scream which disabled the bat’s “radar” and the bat crashed into a wall and died.
Researchers have come up with several answers as to why bats are dying, but no definitive answers. The wide use of pesticides on their food supply and the loss of roosting spots due to cutting trees for firewood and lumber, contribute to their limited propagation and decline.
Bats are beneficial to us and the environment in many ways. Bats can eat 300 bugs and insects (mosquitoes, moths, grasshoppers, corn earworms, etc.) an hour. Without the bugs and insects consumed by bats there would be an increase of diseases, including West Nile Virus. Other ways bats benefit the environment are pollination of plants and flowers, those blooming during the day and the night blooming plants, spreading seeds in areas where there are no birds, such as rain forests and by providing bat guano, a natural fertilizer.
We can help stop the decline of bats by working for laws to protect bats, laws that reduce pesticide use and encourage biological controls; work to save feeding areas found in mines, caves, marshes and roosting areas. We can build bat houses in our yards as Europeans have been doing for many years. Instructions can be found on the internet, in encyclopedias, or at your public library.~