It’s Bat Week! I invite you to celebrate with me not by swinging baseball bats (though the Major League Baseball World Series is turning out to be very exciting) but, by learning about the fuzzy mammal with wings. There are about 1,300 species of bats around the world. The state of Georgia is home to 16 species, including the Little Brown Bat, one of the most common in our region.
Though most bats in the region are small in size, they have a huge appetite. Some bats can eat as many as 1,200 insects in one hour. The insects consumed are most often mosquitos which may carry diseases like West Nile Virus, or even moths, and beetles that may harm crops. As a result, bats keep the eco-system in check, protect our health, and our food sources.
Bats are also pollinators spending some of their time pollinating flowers or spreading seeds that grow new plants and trees. Foods that depend on seed dispersal by bats include cashews, papaya, figs, guava, and bananas. Agave, guava, and bananas also rely on bats to help pollinate their flowers. While rice, walnuts, sugar, and chocolate depend on bats to provide pest control by consuming damaging insects.
According to Bat Conservation International (www.batcon.org), “Bats are often considered “keystone species” that are essential to some tropical and desert ecosystems. Without bats’ pollination and seed-dispersing services, local ecosystems could gradually collapse as plants fail to provide food and cover for wildlife species near the base of the food chain.”
While bats may have a reputation of being rather frightful, a world without bats is even more so. There are actually several factors affecting bats right now, resulting in declining populations and the classification of some bat species as threatened or endangered. The biggest threats include habitat loss from deforestation and human disturbances and deaths from disease – specifically “white-nose syndrome”.
To bring more attention to the benefits of bats, and the challenges they face, organizations like Bat Conservation International, U.S. Forest Service, The Save Lucy Campaign, and the Wildlife Conservation Society have teamed up to create Bat Week (www.batweek.org). Follow the celebrations all week on social media with #BatWeek, #BatWeekArt, and #SaveTheBats. Participants are encouraged to educate themselves about bats and do things that can ultimately help bats in their region survive and thrive.
A new activity this year is called “Pulling for Bats”. Participants are encouraged to remove or pull weeds and invasive plants to help improve habitat and food sources for bats and other types of wildlife. When invasive plants move into an area they take up the resources needed for native plants to survive, which later affects the availability of insects and nectar sources for bats. For a list and photos of invasive species found in Georgia visit www.gainvasives.org.
At www.batweek.org you can find more ways to help bats with simple, everyday actions that can be done at home. For example, you can turn the lights out, especially at night, to help reduce light pollution that affects insects and bats alike. Families can also make recycling a part of their daily routine. Litter, trash in the wrong place, and increasing amounts of garbage are hurdles to healthy environments for wildlife.
At home, you can plant a garden with flowers and food to attract insects that are food sources for bats. Be sure to include a water feature like a bird bath or small pond. Keep the water in the birdbath fresh to reduce the number of mosquitos. If you’re crafty you could build a bat box which is a safe area for bats to rest in. BatCon.org offers easy to follow instructions to build your own in the resources section of their website.
Children and adults may be able to participate in citizen science projects related to bats. Citizen science allows the general public to help scientists gather data on a variety of topics from when plants are in bloom to sightings of particular animals. Bat Detective (www.batdetective.org) for example, has individuals help them identify bat calls which were collected out in the field. iNaturalist.org facilitates the collection of sightings of wildlife. Thru the service the National Park Service is collecting sightings during Bat Week.