The epicenter of the bat die-off is New York. Reports started with hikers noticing dead and dying bats littered outside the caves where they hibernate.
The loss of bats is now at the point where researchers are expressing fear that an extinction is underway. The ultimate cause is unknown, although the condition has been named White Nose Syndrome, due to the presence of fungus growths on the bats’ noses and faces. The fungus is believed, however, to be only a symptom rather than the underlying problem.
Theories for what is causing the bats to die include:
- Virus and bacterial infections
- Pesticides, either due to the toxins themselves or because they’ve killed off bats’ major food source, mosquitoes and other insects
Three of the world’s greatest pollinators -- the creatures that are actually responsible for spreading pollen so plants can grow -- are slowly disappearing right before your eyes. First it was the bees. Then the birds. Now the bats.
The current bat die-off is already being called the most serious threat to North American bats since the beginning of recorded history. In New York, up to 90 percent of the bats hibernating in four caves and mines have died since last winter, and more bats are thought to have died at 15 other New York sites, and also in Massachusetts and Vermont.
Biologists believe that up to half a million bats could ultimately be lost, which would have a major impact on the upcoming growing season.
Bats are Necessary for Crops to Thrive
The common image of bats acting as pests, flying in your hair or trying to suck your blood are, of course, just myths. One of the biggest fears many have about bats -- rabies -- is also completely unfounded, as bat rabies cause just one human death per year in the United States, according to Bat Conservation International.
In reality, bats are a great friend to the environment, helping to pollinate wild plants, disperse fruit seeds, and keep insect populations under control.
Bats are also used strategically by organic farmers as a natural means for pest control, as one small bat can eat up to 2,000 mosquitoes in one night. So you can imagine how mosquitoes and other bugs will multiply without bats to keep them in check.
Other Pollinators are Also Disappearing
As I said earlier, the problem of disappearing bats is magnified because other North American pollinators, namely birds and bees, are also on the decline.
According to a report by the National Audubon Society, for instance, the numbers of some species of birds have plummeted by 60 percent to 80 percent. And as of April 2007, 25 percent of all bee colonies in 27 U.S. states had died.
The growing absence of these necessary creatures is signaling a silent alarm bell about the state of our ecosystem. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture is calling it an “impending pollination crisis.”
Something is throwing things off balance, and, little by little, nature is dying. Eventually, it will no longer be a gradual occurrence, but rather like when you put a stick into a turning bicycle wheel, everything will abruptly come to a halt, and likely fall.
What’s Killing Off the Bees, Birds and Bats?
Nobody knows for sure. And my guess is that it is not one thing but rather an accumulation of things such as:
- Pesticides and other environmental toxins
- Cell phones and information-carrying radio waves
- Genetically modified crops
There is also a sign that something is altering their behavior, as bats have been found flying during the winter and during the day, while they should have been hibernating.
Can Life Go on Without the Birds and the Bees (and the Bats)?
Not for long, no. One-third of the U.S. food supply is dependent on the pollination from bees alone, and without bats or birds, the food supply as you know it would be long gone.
Is there anything you can do?
Well, on a local level, yes. I would suggest contacting your town’s city officials to protest spraying the area with pesticides to combat West Nile Virus. Next, if you have a backyard, consider putting up a couple of bat houses, a bird feeder, and a bird bath, then planting some flowers that attract bees, such as:
- Basil, rosemary, sage and thyme
- Bee balm