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Forest Service Puts Out ‘Bat’ Signal for You to Get Involved

Indiana bats, such as this one, are part of a monitoring program on the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. The bats are fitted with a radio transmitter and tracked to roosting locations throughout the life of the transmitter. (U.S. Forest Service)

Indiana bats, such as this one, are part of a monitoring program on the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. The bats are fitted with a radio transmitter and tracked to roosting locations throughout the life of the transmitter. (U.S. Forest Service)

Synonymous with a superhero signal in the sky and silhouettes hanging upside down in a darkened cave, bats inspire a long-standing fascination, and with good reason: Bats are vital to healthy ecosystems and human economies world-wide.

With Halloween upon us and many people believing bats are creepy, the U.S. Forest Service wants to raise awareness about these mysterious and often misunderstood animals. For example, bats consume up to their body weight in insects every night, including agricultural and forest pests, thus reducing the need for chemical pesticides.

Almost a third of the world’s 1,200 species of bats feed on the fruit or nectar of plants. In return for their meals, these bats are vital pollinators of countless plants and essential seed dispersers with a major role in regenerating rainforests.

A recent study indicated the economic benefit to U.S. farmers from bat predation on insects is about $23 billion per year. The 20 million bats that live in Bracken Cave north of San Antonio, Texas, eat 250,000 pounds of insects every night.

Bats also play a significant role in science and medicine. Research on bats has enabled advancement in sonar and radar as well as the development of a drug to treat stroke patients.

“Many people fear vampire bats, but they don’t realize the drug Draculin, a blood thinner used to treat strokes, is derived from the enzyme desmodeplase, which is found in vampire bat saliva,” said Dennis Krusac, a Forest Service bat biologist.

Bats are critically important, but there is a major problem.  Global bat populations have been declining for decades due to disturbances by people, carelessly used pesticides, and habitat loss. Since 2006, white-nose syndrome, affecting hibernating bats at alarming rates, has killed 5.7 million bats in the eastern U.S. and Canada.

A white fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, grows on bat noses, giving the disease its name, and on other hairless parts of their bodies. The syndrome causes bats to use up their fat reserves rapidly during hibernation. Affected bats fly out of caves during winter in an attempt to find food. Since the insects that bats eat are seasonally dormant, the bats die of starvation. The most threatened are bat populations that hibernate in large colonies.

There are ways for you to make a difference to help bats:

  • Plant a bat garden. If you live in the desert southwest plant flowers that are late day or evening bloomers.
  • Build and install a bat house to replace habitats that have disappeared.
  • Adhere to cave closures; if caves are open follow caver protocols recommended by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to decontaminate clothes, footwear, and equipment used in caves or mines.
  • Stay out of caves when bats are present.
  • Report bats showing signs of white-nose syndrome.
  • Teach your children about the benefits of bats. The Forest Service offers a distance learning adventure at BatsLIVE!

“Our ecosystem restoration projects are extremely important to bats because bats need healthy forests, and healthy forests need bats,” Krusac said. Click here to watch a video about the importance of bats to American agriculture.

Editors’ note: Bat Conservation International and BatRescue.org contributed information to this blog.

Rob Mies, author, director, and founder of the Organization for Bat Conservation gives a presentation sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service in U.S. Department of Agriculture's, Jefferson Auditiorium, Washington, D.C., Wednesday, May 16, 2012. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

Rob Mies, author, director, and founder of the Organization for Bat Conservation gives a presentation sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service in U.S. Department of Agriculture's, Jefferson Auditiorium, Washington, D.C., Wednesday, May 16, 2012. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

One Response to “Forest Service Puts Out ‘Bat’ Signal for You to Get Involved”

  1. Propestmen says:

    Great article! I think its great more is being done to draw attention to bats. Being affiliated with the Organization for Bat Conservation is a great pleasure for us. Working in the Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton Ohio area WNS is always a concern for anyone who knows the benefits of bats. We have a lot of information about bats of Ohio as well as their benefits if anyone is interested at http://www.propestmen.com/ohio/index.html We also have plans in the works to be funding some live animal shows with the OBC in Ohio as well as Michigan if anyone is interested at https://www.crittercatchersinc.com/index.html Thanks again for the nice article and great work!

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