Bat Week Runs Oct. 24-31; Bats Are Crucial for Healthy Ecosystems and Provide Tremendous Economic Benefits to Agriculture and Forestry by Controlling Insects
October heralds seasonal changes across Connecticut – the days continue to grow shorter, leaves change color, temperatures drop, and Halloween candy packs the shelves at stores. One of Halloween’s most iconic symbols is going through a big seasonal change as well. Across Connecticut, bats are on the move; three species of tree bats are moving south for the winter, while the six cave bat species are moving shorter distances where they will spend the winter hibernating.
Unfortunately, populations of hibernating bats in Connecticut and across North America have suffered astonishing losses since 2006. The disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) has killed millions of bats across 33 states and seven Canadian provinces. WNS is caused by a cold-loving fungus that thrives in caves and mines, and which grows on the muzzle and wings of bats, fatally disrupting their hibernation.
The resulting death toll highlights one of the most serious conservation challenges we face. It is especially frightening given the environmental and economic value of bats:
- Bats are the single greatest predator of night-flying insects. A single colony of big brown bats can eat roughly 1.3 million insects every year—nearly 9,000 insects per bat.
- The value of this insect control to agriculture in the U.S. averages $22.9 billion each year.
- This does not include the broader ecosystem benefits of keeping insect populations in check, which has ripple effects in many areas, such as the forest products industry.
- This also lends to public health benefits through the reduced need for toxic chemical pesticides whose residues remain on the produce we buy and consume.
- In the Southwest, bats play a key role in pollination.
The importance of bats in our environment and the rapid decline in their populations has prompted state and federal governments to take protective actions. In Connecticut, the six species most affected by WNS include the big brown, little brown, northern long-eared, tri-colored, eastern small-footed, and Indiana bats. All of these species, except the big brown bat, are now listed as endangered under the Connecticut Endangered Species Act. Due to WNS, the decline of the northern long-eared bat has been so severe it was listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as federally threatened. The Indiana bat, federally listed since 1967, was on the brink of recovery prior to WNS. The species is once again in serious decline.
In response, biologists and researchers are working to address several key areas, including disease management, conservation and recovery; surveillance and diagnostics; data management; and outreach and communications. Many of these efforts have been supported by the State Wildlife Grants program, a critical source of funding for addressing urgent wildlife disease issues. Since 2007, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Wildlife Division has been an active participant in the WNS response. Each year, DEEP biologists monitor bats to document mortality, survivorship, and reproductive success. For more information on white-nose syndrome and related conservation efforts, visit www.whitenosesyndrome.org
Coinciding with Halloween, Bat Week (www.batweek.org) is celebrated each year from October 24-31 to help raise awareness about the importance of bats. “Halloween is a great time to dispel myths about bats,” said Jenny Dickson, Director of the DEEP Wildlife Division. “Rather than harbingers of doom, bats are crucial for healthy ecosystems and provide tremendous economic benefits to agriculture and forestry by controlling insects.”Some fun facts about bats:
- Bats are not flying mice; they are actually more closely related to primates.
- Bats are the only mammal capable of true flight.
- Bats do not try to get caught in people’s hair; they are adept fliers. Bats that fly near people are after insects like mosquitos or moths.
- Bats are not blind; they have good eyesight but rely on echolocation to navigate at night.
- Bats are not filthy or covered in parasites; healthy wings are essential for flight, so bats take care in grooming themselves.
- There are over 1,400 species of bats in the world and only three are known as vampire bats. These three species are only found in Latin America and act as parasites of birds and cattle.
“Learning more about bats and the important role they play in healthy ecosystems would be a great Halloween ‘treat’ for this troubled and misunderstood group of animals,” added Dickson. “Knowing why bats matter is an important part of efforts to halt the devastation caused by white-nose syndrome.”
What you can do to help bats throughout the year:
- Reduce pesticide use—let bats and birds take care of the insects.
- Protect roosting and hibernation sites.
- Spread the word about Bat Week!
Want to learn more about bats? Check out DEEP’s Connecticut Fish and Wildlife Facebook page (www.facebook.com/CTFishandWildlife) for interesting facts, photos, and videos about bats during Bat Week.