Thanks to the horror movies, books and rabid headlines, bats are not only a victim of natural dangers, but also of human misunderstanding and fear. The truth is, bats are amazing for the environment. There are around 1,400 species of bats. They are located in nearly every corner of the planet, with the exception of extreme deserts and arctic regions. Bats come in a variety of sizes, live in different habits and are the only flying mammals on the planet.
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Not only do bats eat more than their weight in insects on a nightly basis, but they also spread seeds that add to the diversity of our ecosystem. Bats contribute to the pollination of a variety of plants, including avocados, bananas, mangos and agave. Unfortunately, a growing number of bats are endangered or threatened, so it’s up to each of us to initiate practices that protect these night flyers. Consider it a way to give thanks for fresh produce and tequila.
The dangers they face
A disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) is one of the highest threats to the bat population with some colonies being nearly completely wiped out as a result. WNS is caused by a bacteria first discovered in the United States in 2006. It is now responsible for millions of bat deaths as it spreads across the U.S. and Canada.
There are other dangers too. According to Bats Without Borders, “Many bats are under severe threat from increasing human pressure. Habitat loss, climate change, roost destruction, disease, deforestation, bushmeat trade, guano mining, disturbance and persecution, and increasing numbers of wind farms are all causes of bats declining globally.”
Learn more about bats
The single most important thing we can do to protect bats is to understand them better. Help kids write a report, do some investigative research, watch documentaries such as Nature’s “The Bat Man of Mexico,” “The Truth About Bats” and listen to podcasts on the topic such as those available on “Ologies” called “Chiropterology with Merlin Tuttle.” Mr. Tuttle is a world-renowned expert in the field, so a quick internet search will lead you in the right direction to find out more.
Provide bat habitat
Due to human interference, bat habitat is in danger, but you can help replace it by building or buying bat houses to put around your property. Here are two design options if you opt to build your own: Four-chamber Nursery Bat House and Two-chamber Rocket Box.
In addition to bat houses, you can provide habitat in the form of decaying logs. Whether they fall naturally or are cut down, leave them for a natural roosting site.
Avoid bat caves
We’re not talking about the secret superhero type here. Many types of bats take refuge inside caves. They thrive in the damp, dark environment and prefer it as a place to hibernate. Unfortunately, it’s also where they pick up white-nose syndrome. Human visitation can be disruptive to the colony, especially during hibernation. Early waking can result in burning too much energy and induce starvation.
More importantly, humans can inadvertently spread the bacteria from one cave to another. Listen to the rangers when they provide information about removing or properly decontaminating clothing, shoes, backpacks and other gear.
Report sightings and behavior
Acting as an extra set of eyes and ears for researchers contributes to the safety of bats. If you witness bats acting strangely, such as flying off kilter, appearing during the day or getting close to humans, report it.
In addition to pointing out odd behavior, you can advance the knowledge, understanding the data about bats through actions as a citizen scientist. Whether you’re out hunting a colony for observation or happen to encounter bats in your home or nearby area, add to bat monitoring networks at a regional or national level. Check out the phone app iNaturalist and look into local fish and wildlife websites.
Let bats be your pesticide
Another way you can help bats is to provide a food source, primarily insects. Avoid pesticide use that suppresses insect populations as well as polluting the environment, food supply and human health. Let the bats do the job instead. They do it well, consuming up to 3,000 insects each in a single night.
Plant a bat garden
Bats may not show a full appreciation of your garden, but they will enjoy the insects drawn towards the fresh scent of flowers. Focus on plants that give off aroma after the sun goes down. Start with white jasmine and evening primrose, along with fragrant herbs such as mint and lemon balm. Also provide a water source to complete the meal.
Join conservation efforts
In addition to using caution when visiting caves and making your property inviting for bats, consider joining organized efforts to protect the species. Check out Bat Conservation International, and Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation to begin.
Lead images via Pexels