Bats Are Gentle Intelligent Creatures
Guest Article for the Tallahassee Democrat
August 16, 2013
By Fred Q. Vroom
Bats are gentle intelligent mammals that render a great service to mankind, pollinating plants and eating insects; they exist in huge numbers, being exceeded in number only by rodents and humans; they are distinguished as the only flying mammals.
Unfortunately, bats are now threatened by a fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans). The fungus invades tissues and is readily seen as a white growth on the nose of hibernating bats, hence the name, White Nose Syndrome (WNS). The fungus invades tissues of the nose, ears, and wings, rupturing membranes and rendering bats unable to fly. This results in starvation and death. Millions of bats have died; with mortality approaching 100% in some caves.
White Nose Syndrome has been found in hibernating bats in much of the eastern U.S. The fungus was first found in the United States in February 2006 in Howes Cave in upstate New York. Howes Cave is a popular tourist attraction. By 2007 it had spread to Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. In 2009 it was found in New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, spreading in 2011 to Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina. In 2012 it was invading Maine, Iowa, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.
There is no cure for WNS, but there is hope. Mortality is not 100%, European bats appear relatively immune to the infection, also a bacterium that inhibits growth of the fungus without damaging bats or the environment is being investigated (“The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend, a new hope in the battle against WNS”, Chris Cornelison, BATS, Vol. 31, No. 2, p 2-4, Summer 2013).
Losing our bats would be a great loss. The consumption of insects by bats is remarkable. Texas is a poster child for bats. Its caves and bridges contain 100 million bats that eat one million pounds of insects EVERY NIGHT. Not only does this reduce annoying insects, they are also protecting our food supply from these insects!
Bats like other mammals can transmit rabies by biting humans. Any bat on the ground is likely sick and should not be touched. Remember, they weigh less than an ounce and are terrified by someone as large as a human and are likely to bite if handled. Only humans vaccinated against rabies should handle bats. Observing this precaution makes the threat of a bat almost non-existent. Proof is in the fact that many bats live in urban areas. Bracken Cave, which is less than six miles from the suburbs of San Antonio, Texas has 10 million Mexican Free-tailed bats. In downtown Austin, at Congress Bridge, over 1 million bats emerge nightly to hunt for insects. From the spring to late fall, upwards of a 100,000 humans view their flight at Congress Bridge, with “0” cases of rabies over the last 30 years since records have been kept.
To learn more about bats, check: http://www.batcon.org
Dr. Vroom, is a retired physician and the Volunteer Director of the Master Gardener Wildlife Program with the Leon County Cooperative Extension Service. For more information about gardening in our area, visit the UF/ IFAS Leon County Extension website at http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov