We are currently experiencing the most dramatic decline of North American wildlife in over 100 years, and yet hardly anyone seems to be talking about it. According to the National Wildlife Health Center, since 2006, scientists estimate that 5.7 million bats have died on this continent. That’s a crap load of bats, people.
Some species have been wiped out completely, and others are only 10 percent of their former population. Once a population has been decimated to that extent, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to recover. Many bat species only produce one pup per female per year.
Why should we care? Well, for a start, bats in this country eat thousands of tons of insects every single night. Let that sink in for a minute. Without bats, the mosquito population would soar, and anyone who has contracted malaria, west nile, dengue fever, yellow fever or the zika virus can tell you that mosquitoes carry disease.
And many of the other bugs that bats eat, if left to their own devices, will destroy the crops that we depend upon to survive. Again, according to NWHC, losing our bats could result in billions of dollars in increased pesticide costs and agricultural damages each year. Bats also pollinate many plants, and are an important part of the food chain.
So, what’s causing this massive die off? A fungus with a creepy name: Pseudogymnoascus destructans. It’s causing a disease called white-nose syndrome in many hibernating bat species. Once this fungus is introduced to a cave, it rapidly spreads through the bat population, wiping it out. This disease seems to have originated in the northeastern US, but as the map below can attest, it is spreading ever outward.
What can you do to help? If you see bats exhibiting strange behavior, such as flying during the day, especially in extremely cold temperatures, report it to your state wildlife agency. Also report any dead bats that you encounter, but do not handle them. Stay out of caves and mines where bats are hibernating, as you can spread the fungus on your clothing and/or equipment. And most importantly, respect cave closures.
You may not like bats as much as I do. You may be thrilled to never encounter a bat again as long as you live. But you need bats. And now more than ever, bats need you. For more information, visit whitenosesyndrome.org.