Bats are amazing creatures. There are more than 1,400 species of bats in the world, about 20 percent of all mammal species. About two-thirds of bats are insectivorous. They consume between 50 and 100 percent of their own weight every night. That voracious appetite for insects is worth more than $57 billion per year in protection for our food crops and the timber industry. If it weren’t for bats, farmers would surely use a lot more chemical pesticides than they do now.
Nationwide, the service bats provide by suppressing insect populations has been estimated to be worth something between $4 billion and $50 billion per year to American agriculture. Senior Environmental Scientist Scott Osborn (my former colleague at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife) told me, “Even the low end of that broad estimate, $4 billion, is an impressive amount. Bats are an important part of integrated pest management systems.”
Some bat species pollinate plants throughout the world, including agave, the main ingredient in tequila. Even their guano (feces) is valuable. It provides rich fertilizer across the landscape and is important for cave ecosystems. Without bats, the invertebrates and microorganisms that live in caves and depend on bat guano—and the amphibians that depend on them—couldn’t thrive.
Bats have contributed to human well-being in other ways, too. Stroke victims have been saved by a synthesized anti-clotting enzyme found in bat spit. Research conducted on bats has also led to advancements in vaccine development, sonar, and more.
Unfortunately, population declines have caused 17 of California’s 25 native bat species to need some level of state or federal protection.
In eastern North America, white-nose syndrome (WNS) has killed more than six million bats. It is caused by a fungus—Pseudogymnoascus destructans—that grows in and on bats’ skin during winter hibernation and spreads quickly through bat colonies. The 2016 discovery of a bat with WNS in the State of Washington suddenly brought this unprecedented wildlife health crisis close to home.
The fungus has since been found at more sites in Washington. CDFW and its partners continue to do surveillance and response planning for the disease, which almost inevitably will be here in California before long.
Bats need our help. To wrap up Bat Appreciation Month, Oct. 24-31 is Bat Week. You can be a hero for bats by joining in the celebrations during Bat Week 2022 and beyond. Things a Bat Hero can do:
- Learn more about bats and teach others about how important they are;
- Take action to help protect bats and their habitat;
- If you drink tequila, keep an eye out for bat-friendly brands;
- Build and install a bat box on your property;
- Add bat-friendly plants to your garden; or
- Join a citizen-science bat monitoring project in your area.
There are many ideas for how you can be a Bat Hero at the Bat Week 2022 website, http://batweek.org. Look under the “Take Action” tab.