Please like me! I’m furry, eat pesky mosquitos, and help make Tequila. And you like movies about me. OMSI has one playing right now, The Dark Knight Rises in the OMNIMAX.
What am I? I’m a bat. Me and my buddies eat millions of insects every night. Some of us pollinate delicious plants like bananas, mangoes and agave (the plant we get Tequila from).
But we have a problem. There is this fungal disease (white nose syndrome) spreading across the country. Since 2006 it has spread across the northeastern U.S. and even made it to Missouri last year. It has already killed more than 5 million bats and scientists are concerned about the impact this will have.
Why the concern? The drop in our population size is large. Some areas have bat populations declining by 70-90%. Some caves had 100% mortality with as many as 300,000 deaths. To make matters worse, we typically have just one offspring per year, making the rebound rate for our species very slow. Yup, it’s a big deal.
But we are not just at risk of losing an interesting piece of nature; we are losing a resource. Bats like me have a huge impact on U.S. agriculture by eating insects that destroy food crops, saving billions of dollars. The less we are able to rely on this natural pest control, the more farmers may need to rely on chemical sprays to stop the destruction of insects.
What is being done? Biologists are studying how the fungus spreads and how it can be controlled. They are educating spelunkers and other cave enthusiasts on the seriousness of the problem. Most recently, the Nature Conservancy set up an artificial cave with the hope of providing a home for bats that can be completely disinfected after we leave hibernation.
How can you help? The most importablt thing to remember is that if you use caves, make sure you understand where you are and pay attention to signs. Follow proper decontamination procedures to not spread disease. You can support Bat Conservation International with a donation, or sign a note to your leaders in Congress.
Recent history shows a misunderstanding of bats, but the more people find out about us, the more appreciative they are. To get a better understand of bats click on the Bat Conservation International link above. You can also view us in our natural environment! Spend some time outside after dusk this fall watching for acrobatic flyers. You'll wonder why you haven't done it sooner.