The Benefits of Bats
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How are bats beneficial?
Bat. What does the word mean to you? Vampires? Blood-suckers? Rabies? Fairy tales, horror stories and rumors have given these amazing mammals a bad rap. In reality, bats are very important, not only to the environment, but to humans and the many products we use.
- Pollination is the process of moving pollen grains from the male part of the flower (stamen) to the female part (the pistil). Bats love to drink the sweet nectar inside flowers. As they drink and move from flower to flower, they pick up a dusting of pollen and distribute it to other flowers.
- Bats are very important animals in ecosystems all over the world. Tropical bats are essential to the rain forest, where they pollinate flowers and disperse seeds for countless trees and shrubs.
- Agricultural plants, such as bananas, mangoes, cashews, dates, avocadoes, peaches, cloves, and figs (to name a few) rely on bats for pollination. Bats also help distribute the seeds of these important plants, so they can reproduce and create more fruit for us humans to eat and enjoy.
- Without pollinating and seed-dispersing bats, many ecosystems would gradually die. Plants would fail to provide food and cover for wildlife species near the base of the food chain. If these plants die, wildlife will die, causing entire ecosystems to deteriorate.
- In the East African savannah, the great baobab tree is critical to the survival of so many species it is often called the “African Tree of Life.” The baobab depends almost exclusively on bats for pollination. Without bats, baobabs would die, causing a collapse of one of our planet’s most amazing and important ecosystems.
- Because bats eat so many insects, they lessen the need for use of chemical pesticides in agriculture.
- Bats can help control the populations of beetles, moths, and leafhoppers. Many insects can hear bats up to 100 feet away and will avoid those areas occupied by bats. Some people build bat boxes and post them on their houses or sheds. If bats occupy the boxes, insects are sure to be less plentiful around those places!
- Remembering these fun facts the next time you are being pestered by mosquitoes will help you appreciate these little mammals.
- Scientists have been studying vampire bat saliva. It contains an anticoagulant (prevents blood clots from forming), which may soon be used to treat human heart patients.
- Because bats eat large amounts of mosquitoes, they help control viruses spread by the insects. Diseases such as West Nile virus would be much more plentiful without bats.
- Lessons learned from bats’ echolocation have produced navigational aids for the blind.
- Bats also produce guano (their manure) which is rich in nitrogen; this natural by-product is used to fertilize lawns and gardens.
- Mexican freetail bats love to eat an especially pesky moth called the corn earworm moth (otherwise known as the cotton bollworm, tomato fruitworm, etc.). These moths attack commercial plants from artichokes to watermelons. Worldwide crop damage from this moth is estimated at more than $1 billion a year and recent research concluded that freetails are so effective that they save farmers in south-central Texas up to $1.7 million a year in pesticide costs. That means fewer pesticides enter the ecosystem and the foods we eat.
Why are America’s Bats Dying?
Scientists are currently working to determine if fungal infection is the sole cause of WNS-associated bat deaths (mortality). Since the winter of 2006-2007, at least one million
insect-eating bats from at least nine states have died from White Nose Syndrome (WNS).
This disease, named for the white fungus often seen on the muzzles, ears, and wings of infected bats, poses a threat to cave hibernating bats of the United States and potentially all temperate regions of the world.
Scientifically called Geomyces destructans, the fungus invades the skin of bats, producing ulcers and often making bats leave their hibernation before they are ready, thereby causing starvation.
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