The Environmental, Agricultural, and Health Benefits of Bats
People may not pay much mind to bats, unless they associate them with vampire lore. Unfortunately, people may also have a negative view of them because of their association with various diseases. However, these winged mammals are important to humans, to our food, and to our planet’s biodiversity. Here are some reasons we should all thank a bat.
They’re a More Environmentally-Friendly Pesticide
One of the main components of a bat’s diet is insects. Some bats even eat rodents. This helps protect crop production, which aids in the economy and helps all of us eat. They’ve been known to eat bugs that attack crops including pecans, almonds, rice, corn, coffee, sugarcane, tomatoes, and beans. They’re real go-getters, too, eating up to 3,000 insects in a single night. So how much does their snacking benefit the economy? It’s estimated that they help crop producers save more than $3 billion dollars a year, just in the United States.
They Help Disperse Seeds
Bats don’t just protect plants that are already growing, they help more grow, too! Due to their consumption of fruit and other plants, they play a big role in seed dispersal. Their droppings ensure that a wide variety of seeds can be scattered elsewhere and later grow into essential plants. This is especially true in the rainforest. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, bats that eat fruit can be responsible for up to 95% of the seed dispersal leading to early growth after rainforests have been cleared.
Bees, butterflies, and some birds are often the first species that come to mind when you think of pollinators. However, bats are a hugely important part of this list, too. When bats drink nectar within flowers, pollen will hitch a ride on them from plant to plant. Among the more than 300 food producing plants they pollinate are peaches, bananas, mangoes, cashews, dates, and figs. They’re also the primary pollinator of the agave plant and help pollinate many cacti that only open their flowers at night.
They Can Help Our Gardens
If you thought all their food benefits had already been listed, just wait. There’s more! Bats can also help our gardens grow and thrive. Their droppings, guano, provide nutrients plants need to grow, including nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate. Guano can be used as fertilizer for a variety of plants, including vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers. It improves soil due to the microbes it contains, it serves as a natural fungicide, and it can also help quicken the composting process.
They Help Cave-Dwelling Species
Interestingly, there are other species that are thankful for bat poo: cave dwelling organisms. For species that can’t survive outside caves, the nutrients bats bring in with their guano help provide what these species need to survive. Bats are so helpful, even their droppings deserve a hearty thanks.
They Can Protect Human Health
We’ve already established that bats benefit our economy, the environment in which we live, and the food that we eat, but did you know they can also help us stay healthy? One, they eat a lot of mosquitoes. A study out out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that little brown bats eat nine mosquito species known to carry the West Nile virus. In addition to doing their part to keep us from mosquito-borne illnesses, their saliva is also known to benefit us. The saliva of the vampire bat contains an anticoagulant that could one day help patients with strokes.
They’re Facing Many Threats
With all of the benefits these winged creatures provide, it’s important that their populations stay up. Unfortunately, many are struggling to do that. One of the main reasons is white-nose syndrome, which involves a fungus that grows on a bat’s muzzle and wings. This happens during hibernation, causing affected bats to wake up more frequently and face dehydration and starvation before spring. This is the main reason the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently proposed endangered status for the tricolored bat, though the disease has devastated other species, as well. The population drop caused by this is making other threats more pronounced, including disturbances at bats’ roosting, foraging, commuting, and wintering habitats.
The FWS is working to address the disease, with the White-nose Syndrome National Response Team. Made up of more than 150 organizations, Tribes, and government agencies, the group is researching and developing management strategies to help lessen the disease’s impacts and recover populations.
Would you like to do your part? Consider signing this petition, encouraging the U.S. government to continue to address this serious disease. To benefit bats in general, you can also provide shelter with a bat box, keep lights to a minimum around your home, and make your yard bat-friendly by using fewer pesticides so they have insects to eat, leaving dead and dying trees in areas that aren’t in the way so bats can roost there, and growing plants that attract pollinators.Whizzco