Helping Our Bats Means Less Insect Pests
Before and After the Die Off
Four years ago, we moved with our family to our current home. We live in a large hunt camp not far from the Tantramar Marsh. The Tantramar Marsh is an important ecosystem at the north end of the Bay of Fundy, where New Brunswick meets Nova Scotia.
That first summer here, I heard one mosquito. I was standing on our undesignated dirt road very late in the evening. The mosquito never got to me. I heard a soft rustle of wings and then the buzzing was gone.
At night in the moonlight, you could see bats zipping around as you walked. If you stood still, they would whip right close by your head or even between your legs. They never caused us any bother.
Four years later we sleep under mosquito netting. There are still a few bats out there but they aren't making much of an impact. The buzzing of mosquitoes is a constant background sound all night every night. I have to slap at them periodically as I sit and compose at my keyboard. I sure do miss those bats.
White Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a fungal disease that grows on the noses and wings of hibernating bats. It is caused by a fungus with the scientific name Pseudogymnoascus destructans. The mortality rate is as high as 95% and could lead to the extinction of several species of North American bats.
While not entirely understood, the disease is spread by direct contact between bats. It is possible that the disease is spread by humans through contaminated clothing and equipment. There is also speculation that the disease came from Europe where the bat population has natural immunity to the disease.
Besides eating pests like mosquitoes, bats eat other insect pests and there could be an economic impact to our food supply. This is important to every one of us.
For North American bats the news is truly grim. It certainly isn't good news for humans either.
Nothing To Be Scared Of
Back when I was a teenager, one of our chores was to cut the lawn. My younger brother Jake thought he ran over a chunk of wood and reached to pick it up. The "piece of wood" was actually a bat that fell out of the tree it had been sleeping in. It opened it's little mouth and showed Jake its impressive fangs. Scared Jake and then me. Quite the fangs on such a small animal.
We fetched a box and scooped it in with a couple of sticks. We put it in the family garage where it hung itself up for the rest of the day. The next morning our bat was gone.
Bats get a lot of bad press because of one species (vampire bats) and the movies. We wouldn't have been so scared otherwise.
Most bats dine on insects, in fact where I live that is all they eat.
A self proclaimed expert once told me that more than ninety percent of bats were rabid. Nonsense. They are more prone to carry rabies than other species of animal but to say ninety percent is ridiculous. Think about it. Those types of claims are not even logical. Bats like any other animal will defend itself, so you could get bitten, but don't be stupid about it. Any animal bite should not be taken lightly.
Are you batty about bat houses?
So What Can We Do?
I'm not a scientist so my contribution to figuring out how to stop the spread of this disease can only be monetary. Since I'm pretty broke, my efforts there won't make much of an impact. There is something we can still do. We can give these little animals a better fighting chance.
How many of us have bird houses? Did you know that you can build or buy a bat house just as easily?
If everyone who cares about birds, did the same for bats. We could make a difference, a big difference. Providing a place to live safe from predators would help. Bird house owners should take them down periodically and clean them out. Bat houses could use an annual round of disinfecting. Studies have suggested that anti-fungal remedies people use might kill the fungus responsible for this bat disaster.
I have great faith in mother nature. I honestly believe that the bat population will eventually make a comeback. I'd just like to see it happen in my lifetime. Let's give them a helping hand.