From Dracula to Batman, bats play a significant role in our pop culture myths and stories. But they play an even larger role in our ecosystem. A role that’s now being threatened by a mysterious illness that’s killing millions of bats a year.
In 2012, the last year they tracked exact numbers, 6.7 million bats died of white nose syndrome. But scientists have now found signs of the disease in 8% of Texas counties. That may seem like a small number, but since at least 33 of the 47 species of bats found in North America live or travel through Texas, the chance of the disease spreading has risen exponentially.
We know that bats provide natural pest solutions – a solitary brown bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in a single hour. But bats also act as secondary pollinators for many plants, and are also responsible for spreading seeds. Many fruit, nut and the legendary baobab ‘tree of life’ rely on the bats to widen their boundaries.
Considered a “keystone species,” some estimates say that at least a third of the world’s food supply relies on bats for pollination and seed dispersal. Their guano also makes wonderful fertilizer.
Fungus Among Us
White nose syndrome, also known as Pseudogymnoascus destructans, has infected 18 different species of bats in North America. Researchers say it’s responsible for the loss of 70-90-percent of some states’ bat populations. After the infection took hold in one Arkansas cave where more than 1000 bats lived, only 7 survived the crisis.
The fungus somehow interrupts the physiology of hibernating bats, causing them to wake up too early or too frequently. The bats starve to death because they cannot find enough food. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that female bats only produce one offspring a year.
Strangely, the destructive fungus is not having the same effect on bats in Europe and Asia. Several species there coexist with the fungus differently than North American bats. Leading scientists say since no bats from these regions migrate to our shores, the cause of the outbreak is almost certainly from human travel interactions.
Researchers have started to find clues that may lead to a cure. The white nose fungus is an offshoot of other similar funguses, with the exception that it is sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Unfortunately, since bats are nocturnal animals, they need to find a way to expose them while still in their caves, while simultaneously protecting other endangered species that share the caves.
Sadly, between bats’ typically long lives, their mating habits and the time it has taken to find even a hint of a solution, multiple human generations will pass before the bat population is restored.
While the United States government does not recognize bats as an endangered species, many states have laws protecting the at risk species there. In Florida, thirteen species of bats live. And while only a few are endangered, Florida law makes it illegal to kill a bat. They must be humanely removed from buildings. And from mid-April to mid-August – bat maternity season – they cannot be touched in any way.
The good news is, once we get past August, Good News Pest Solutions specializes in bat exclusion. That’s carefully relocating bats and their pups to safe places. We’ve moved bats from homes and businesses everywhere from Ruskin to Port Charlotte. But not Gotham City – they’ve got their own guardian there. For more information, or to learn about our other organic pest solutions, just give us a call!