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It’s Bat Appreciation Month!

BBig Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus), credit Angell Williams, Flickr Commons

October may have been selected as Bat Appreciation Month because those mysterious creatures are associated with spooky scenes of Halloween. However, these are five reasons we should LOVE bats, not fear them, here in Virginia and around the world.

Plus, take a look at the fascinating bat segment we filmed with Powering Virginia that aired in August on CBS6: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up9DQ0i1M_E&feature=youtu.be

1. Bats are the most diverse species of mammals. With over 1,200 species worldwide, bats amount to approximately one fifth of all mammal species. They have uncommonly long lifespans for small mammals, living an average of 25-40 years in the wild. Virginia’s 17 native bat species are nocturnal and use echolocation to hunt night-flying insects such as moths, mosquitoes, and beetles. The most commonly seen bat species in Richmond are the little brown bat and the big brown bat.

2. Bats keep bugs at bay. One bat can eat up to 1,000 insects in just one hour—that means a small colony of 100 bats can consume 100,000 insects in an area in just sixty minutes! Without this natural pest control, insect populations would explode, leading to widespread crop damage and many more mosquito bites. Scientists estimate that bats prevent around $3.7 billion in crop damage and pesticide use in the United States each year. In short, higher bat populations lead to fewer bugs and less chemicals in the environment.

3. Bats pollinate our food. Unlike Virginia insectivores, megabats in Central and South America consume fruit. Other bats in tropical and desert climates commonly eat nectar or insects in flowers. As these bats are brushing against the plants, the pollen sticks to their fur and is moved from the stamen to the pistil, and then may be dispersed to other plants as the bats continue looking for food. The next time you have a banana, mango, or margarita, thank a bat!

4. Guano is an excellent fertilizer. What is guano, you ask? Bat poop! Guano is very rich in nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium. Humans have been harvesting bat guano and using it for fertilizer for centuries. It was also used during the Civil War to make gunpowder when other sources of nitrate were scarce. As if that wasn’t cool enough, seeds dropped in bat guano accounts for up to 95% of forest growth on cleared land in tropical areas where bats consume fruit!

5. Bats are the only mammals capable of flight. While some mammals like the flying squirrel may glide for short distances, bats are the only mammal able to sustain flight. Each wing is made up of five fingers just like our own, with a wing membrane connecting them all together. Many people think that bats are flying rodents, but bats are more closely related to humans and other primates than they are to mice and rats.

Bats are fascinating animals that provide invaluable services to humans and the environment. Unfortunately, our bats are in trouble! White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), an invasive fungus that thrives in cold conditions, has been found across the northeastern United States. The fungus grows on the muzzles and wings of bats and causes them to wake prematurely during hibernation and even leave their place of hibernation early. Little brown bat populations in Virginia have decreased 98% as a direct result of WNS. To help our bats, educate your friends and family about the benefits of bats and the threat of WNS, adhere to all cave closures to prevent the spread of WNS, and report unusual late-winter behavior or unexplained bat deaths to your state wildlife agency.

-Kylie Wash, Environnmental Educator