Without nature’s pollinators, we couldn’t produce enough food to feed the world’s population. It’s as plain as that. While we of the human species go about our days without much thought to what it takes for the food crops that sustain us to thrive, there is a mighty buzzing, fluttering and swooping army that is working hard to make sure that the growing process from pollination to harvest takes place – namely bees, butterflies and bats. Of these three environmental superheroes, BATS really get the short end of the stick.
Put aside for a moment that ever since Bram Stoker’s iconic Gothic novel Dracula was released in 1897, we have been programed to believe that bats are going to suck our blood and get stuck in our hair. Not only are bats misunderstood, they are actually fascinating creatures. For example, did you know that one bat can eat more than 1,000 insects in an hour – up to 6,000 a night. That means a lot fewer mosquitoes to buzz the family barbecue. Also, Cinco de Mayo wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for the services of the Mexican long-tongued bat to pollinate the agave plant, the source of tequila. And that’s not all. According to David Suzuki, award-winning scientist, environment- alist and broadcaster, because of their role in insect control, pollination and seed dispersal, bats are a key part of the interconnected web of life that makes growing food possible. Even their nitrogen-rich guano (a nicer name for poop) makes great fertilizer.
Other bat facts to dispel some long-held myths:
With myths dispelled, isn’t it about time we turned a little love back toward the world’s only flying mammal that do so much good for us. It turns out about half of all bat species around the globe are threatened or endangered, mainly due to things we are doing – from habitat destruction to pollution and direct harm from humans.
One threat to bats is white-nose syndrome, a fungus that causes bats to warm and wake from hibernation in cold weather before insects are available, so they starve or die of exposure. More funding is needed to help scientists understand why the fungus affects bats this way, where it comes from and what we can do about it. Some experts are now recommending that bats be designated a protected species.
Another threat comes from wind turbines. We need to have proper environmental assessments before wind turbines are installed, to reduce harm to bats and minimize other environmental impacts, so we can enjoy the benefits of clean wind power without putting bats at risk.
We can also help bats by providing them homes. Bats can have trouble finding a safe place in our developed landscapes to roost during the day while they rest, and bat houses give them a space of their own, just the way they like it. You can buy or make a bat house for your local bats to sleep the day away. They should be southern facing and mounted at least 4 meters (or just over 13 feet) off the ground.
According to David Suzuki, it’s time to sound the alarm. If we don’t do everything we can to help bats, we’ll all suffer – and not just from mosquito bites! Put in economic terms, without the role bats play in controlling agricultural pests, billions of dollars could be added to the cost of producing food. Like so many other living things, bats illustrate how everything in nature is interconnected and that harming one plant or animal or ecosystem has cascading effects that touch us all.
For more about bats and how you can help their plight, visit www.batconservation.org.