Disappearing Species Alert: Why Bats Are Critical to Our Survival

Bats have been disappearing at an alarming rate, but no one is paying attention.  Why should we care about bats?  Simple, bats eat bugs.  Tons of bugs.  In fact, the bats that died prematurely since the disease was first discovered in 2006, would have eaten an estimated 2.5 million pounds of bug per year.  Now, that is a boatload of bugs.  Bats eat mosquitos, moths, flies – all the bugs we try to get rid of using a variety of methods, bats get rid of these efficiently and for free.

Bats may not be cute and cuddly like polar bears but we need them desperately.  They keep the population of West Nile virus carrying mosquitos down and eat bugs that decimate our crops and gardens.  Without bats, farmers will need to use more pesticides, crops may fail or suffer, and this will have the effect of driving up grocery prices.  Furthermore bat droppings make some of the best fertilizer in the world and the droppings are a great habitat for a variety of critters we don’t even fully understand yet.  The world needs bats.

Why are they disappearing?  There is a fungus called white nose syndrome that attaches to the noses of hibernating bats.  While that may sound minor, the effect is not.  The irritation wakes up hibernating bats who then go in search of food, when they should be hibernating.  They burn off critical winter fat, yet they can’t find any food.  As a result, they starve to death.  This disease is spreading and killing bats an alarming rate – so far, it has killed over one million bats.  That is a huge part of the bat population.

The disease has spread to over 115 caves and has been described as “the gravest threat to bats ever seen”.  The mortality rate in some caves is up to 90%.  A once common bat, the little brown myotis, may become extinct if this disease goes unchecked.  The largest populations of bats in the WORLD are in Kentucky, Northern Alabama, and Tennessee.  If the disease hits these colonies, it could lead to the extinction of these important creatures.

No one knows what causes white nose syndrome.  There is speculation that it may have come from a European bat and that bats in Europe are immune to the disease.  Fungi (chitridiomycosis) is also attacking the world’s amphibians, leading to their rapid decline.  And there is the case of colony collapse disorder, where bees are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Some scientists believe that chemicals in the environment, such as PCB’s, are causing the weakening of the immune systems of these creatures which leaves them unable to fight off what would ordinarily be a minor infection.

We don’t know for sure what is causing, bees, bats, frogs, salamanders and other amphibians to disappear so suddenly and at such an unprecedented pace, but we do know that out of an abundance of caution, it make sense to reduce our chemical consumption – and consumption on all levels.  We may not be able to survive without these critical species.

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