Since a mysterious disease was first found in upstate New York in 2006, more than a million bats have died. In some caves, more than 90 percent of bats have been lost.
Bats are a favorite scary symbol of Halloween, but really, we should be frightened for the bats that are so important to our environment.
White-nose syndrome, an ailment that causes bats to wake up during their winter hibernation and fly out in search of insects, then die of starvation, has infected countless caves from Canada to Tennessee.
Infected bats grow a white fungus on their snout and wings, and scientists are presently working to better understand the disease and how it spreads.
In Tennessee, Nature Conservancy scientists are actually working to create an artificial bat cave, where researchers can test potential treatments for white-nose syndrome.
But the problem extends far beyond our region. More than half of all bat species in the United States are struggling because of habitat loss, and globally, many species are facing extinction. In fact, the United Nations has named 2011-12 the year of the bat to draw attention to the global decline.
In the Southwest and Mexico, bats play an important role pollinating cacti and other plants – including agave, the plant used to produce tequila.
And the types of bats that swoop through the skies here in New England can eat 1,000 mosquitoes or more in a single night, helping protect local people from West Nile and encephalitis – deadly diseases that are spread by mosquitoes.
So, spread the word this Halloween. A world without bats would be a very scary place.
For more information or to send a free Halloween e-card, visit www.nature.org/bats
You can access a great photo of bats flying out of a bat cave visiting
Fun Bat Facts
- Bat can fly at speeds reaching 60 mph.
- Bats can find their food in total darkness. They locate insects by emitting inaudible high-pitched sounds, 10-20 beeps per second and listening to echoes.
- There are 1,100 species of bats worldwide – making up one-quarter of the world’s mammal population. There are forty different species of bats live in the United States.
- There are only three species of “vampire bats” – bats that live off the blood of animals. None of those species lives in the United States.
- Bats can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour, and often consume their body weight in insects every night.
- More than half of the bat species in the United States are in severe decline or listed as endangered.
- Bats can live to be more than 30 years old.
- Most bats have only one pup a year, making them extremely vulnerable to extinction.
- Bat mothers can find their babies among thousands or millions of other bats by their unique voices and scents.
- Bat droppings, called guano, are one of the richest fertilizers. Bat guano was once a big business. Guano was Texas largest mineral export before oil!
- The world’s largest bat is the “flying fox” that lives on islands in the South Pacific. It has a wingspan of up six feet.
- The world’s smallest bat is the bumble bee bat of Thailand, which is smaller than a thumbnail and weighs less than a penny.