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The Real Story Behind Bats

A California leaf-nose bat captures a cricket. (Copyright photo used with permission/Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International, www.batcon.org)

A California leaf-nose bat captures a cricket. (Copyright photo used with permission/Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International, www.batcon.org)

As Halloween approaches, it is easy to get caught up in the mystery and fear that surround bats, but the truth about bats is that they are fascinating animals vital for a healthy environment and economy.

As we celebrate National Bat Week, set your concerns aside. We need bats, and bats need us – now more than ever.

Bats occupy almost every habitat in the world. They devour tons of insects nightly, pollinate flowers, and spread seeds that grow new plants and trees. They are our most important natural predators of night-flying insects, consuming mosquitoes, moths, beetles, crickets, leafhoppers and chinch bugs, among others. Many of these insects are serious crop or forests pests, while others spread disease to humans or livestock. Every year, bats save us billions of dollars in pest control by simply eating insects.

Yet, bats are in decline nearly everywhere they are found. Bat numbers in the U.S. and Canada have declined dramatically as a new disease, White-Nose Syndrome, has killed more than 6 million bats in just six years. Learn more about this devastating disease by watching the Forest Service video, Battle for Bats.

“You don’t need extraordinary powers or a lot of money to help protect bats,” said Brandon Hartleben, a Forest Service wildlife biologist for the Eastern Region. “There are many actions both great and small that can help conserve bats and the places where they live.”

While superhero costumes may abound in stores this Halloween, the Forest Service and its partners invite you to join us in celebrating bats during National Bat Week.  After all, bats are one of the smallest heroes of all.

A family learns more about how bats create economic and ecosystem benefits from Cynthia Sandeno, acting regional wildlife biologist for the Forest Service’s Eastern Region during the Wisconsin Bat Festival at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee. (U.S. Forest Service/Cassie Cibik)

A family learns more about how bats create economic and ecosystem benefits from Cynthia Sandeno, acting regional wildlife biologist for the Forest Service’s Eastern Region during the Wisconsin Bat Festival at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee. (U.S. Forest Service/Cassie Cibik)

Here are other ways to show appreciation for and learn more about bats:

  • National Kick-Off of National Bat Week with Forest Service leaders hosting a special celebration of bats and bat conservation for employees at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. The Forest Service will sign a service-wide memorandum of understanding with the Organization for Bat Conservation. Rob Mies, executive director of the organization, and his “ambassador” bats will an exciting educational program about the wonder and value of bats, and what we all can do to be bat champions!
  • Project EduBat – Education Taking Flight live webcast at 2 p.m. ET  Oct. 29. This free broadcast will feature activities, resources, and lesson plans to help you teach both children and adults about bats. Learn how to use newly developed bat educational trunks that will be available across the country for your use!  Special appearances by live bats.
  • Enter the Get to Know bat week art contest. The Forest Service partner is hosting an online expressive arts contest for young people. Bat-inspired art, photography, writing, music or video can be entered in this free contest.
  • Visit BatsLIVE, an online learning adventure with resources for teachers, including curriculum, posters and other resources.

    Nancy Ross, director of renewable resources for the Forest Service’s Eastern Region, shares a bat skull with a visitor at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center during the Wisconsin Bat Festival in Milwaukee. (U.S. Forest Service/Cynthia M. Sandeno)

    Nancy Ross, director of renewable resources for the Forest Service’s Eastern Region, shares a bat skull with a visitor at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center during the Wisconsin Bat Festival in Milwaukee. (U.S. Forest Service/Cynthia M. Sandeno)

6 Responses to “The Real Story Behind Bats”

  1. Sandy says:

    Such a great story!! The Forest Service does a wonderful job working in partnership for bat conservation!! I hope lots of folks across the country learn about bats this week and take personal steps to becoming bat champions. Bats need our help — and we certainly need bats in our lives! They eat biting insects and crop and forest pests; they pollinate plants; they help us make advances in engineering and science/medicine — and they are important parts of healthy, productive and resilient ecosystems. Go Bats!!!!

  2. Sean says:

    I have a question:

    For those who are concerned about potential negative impacts that may occur through an increase in bats in their area and how that weighs against the positives, what is a short, easy breakdown we can give them?

    This will be an important thing for us to be able to answer on the spot, so having all the information as concisely as possible would be valuable!

  3. Ben [USDA Moderator] says:

    @Sean – thank you for your question. First, let’s get past the fear factor. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show that between 1950 and 2007, only 56 cases of bat-born rabies transmission to humans occurred in the United States and Canada, which translates to 3.9 cases per billion person-years. You have little to fear and much to celebrate with bats, such as pest-control services provided by insect-eating bats that likely saves the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year. Bats are also important pollinators and seed dispersers, especially in tropical forests and ecosystems. Because bats recycle nutrients from forests to caves and are eaten by predators, they serve as important indicators of ecosystem health. Yet many bat species are in decline. In North America alone, the deadly white-nose fungus has killed more than 6 million cave-hibernating bats east of the Mississippi and in eastern Canada. Many agencies and organizations are working together to combat the negative effects of white nose syndrome, and support conservation efforts that ensure healthy bat populations in the future. Visit our partner sites – Organization for Bat Conservation and Bat Conservation International – for more information. Both sites provide information about how to help.

  4. Solomon says:

    Bats with their economic and environmental values should be appreciated,but what about the treat they pose as a vector of ebola virus?

  5. Ben [USDA Moderator] says:

    @Solomon – thank you for your question. According to the CDC, fruit bats in Africa are considered to be a natural reservoir for Ebola virus. Bats in North America are not known to carry Ebola virus and so CDC considers the risk of an Ebola disease outbreak from bats occurring in the United States to be very low. However, bats are known to carry rabies and other diseases here in the United States. To reduce the risk of disease transmission, never attempt to touch a bat, living or dead. More information about Ebola virus in animals is available at http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/transmission/qas-pets.html.

  6. susan ganley says:

    Saw two small bats today while walking my dog. it was about 1pm in Pennsylvania and an unusually warm day high 60′s. Is this normal? I worry about them because they have recently been scarce due to a disease.

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