Going to bat for our furry flying friends

Bats are fascinating creatures, and they’re more important than many people realize. A bat can eat more than 1,000 insects in an hour — up to 6,000 a night. Some bats consume bugs that attack agricultural crops and some feast on pests like gnats and mosquitoes.

Bats are fascinating creatures, and they’re more important than many people realize. A bat can eat more than 1,000 insects in an hour — up to 6,000 a night. Some bats consume bugs that attack agricultural crops and some feast on pests like gnats and mosquitoes. The 25 million free-tailed bats in Bracken Cave, Tex., eat more than 200 tonnes of insects every summer night!

Some bats are also pollinators. Without the services of the Mexican long-tongued bat, the agave plant, from which we get tequila, might not survive. So, right off the bat (sorry), if you like tequila but not mosquito bites, you should view bats as your friends.

There’s more. Because of their role in insect control, pollination, and seed dispersal, bats are a key part of the interconnected web of life that makes growing food possible. Even their nitrogen-rich poop makes good fertilizer. Bats do so much for us. Maybe it’s time we returned the favour — especially considering the dire threats many bat populations face.

But some people are afraid of bats. Much of this is based on misconceptions about the world’s only flying mammal: bats will drink your blood, give you rabies, or get stuck in your hair.

Although the three species of vampire bats in Central and South America do feed on blood, they prefer to drink from cows, goats, pigs, and chickens. And rabies is rare in bats. Fewer than 40 people have contracted rabies from wild bats over the past 50 years. And despite expressions like “blind as a bat,” bats can actually see quite well, and have the added advantage of echolocation for navigating, so they’re unlikely to fly into you or your hair.

Many of the 1,200 known species of bats, representing a quarter of all mammal species, are in trouble. And we humans deserve much of the blame. About half the world’s bat species are threatened or endangered, mainly due to habitat destruction, pollution and direct harm by humans.

Other threats are more mysterious.

Bats in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and other parts of eastern North America are being wiped out by white-nose syndrome. A fungus causes the bats to warm and wake from hibernation in cold weather before insects are available, so they starve or die of exposure.

Scientists are trying to learn why the fungus affects the bats this way, and where it comes from, but they have yet to find conclusive answers. They believe it could be an invasive species of fungus, imported from Europe through human activity, to which North American bats haven’t built up immunity.

A committee of experts has recommended that Canada’s environment minister issue an emergency order to protect the bats under the Species at Risk Act, but the government has yet to respond. One of the greatest fears is that the fungus could spread to other bat populations, and maybe even jump the Rocky Mountains, unless we act quickly.

New Brunswick zoologist Don McAlpine told CBC News that, because they provide natural pest control, “the loss of bats could add billions of dollars to the cost of producing food.”

Besides protecting bats through legislation, people can also help by building them homes. Different bats require different types of houses, but all should be south-facing and mounted at least four metres off the ground. This will help bats in the face of increasing habitat loss, and may also discourage them from roosting in your home or garage.

We also need to have proper environmental assessments before wind turbines are installed, to reduce harm to bats and minimize other environmental impacts. Scientists suspect that dead bats found near wind-power installations (most of which are migratory species) were killed by air pressure drops rather than contact with blades. With proper environmental reviews and more research about the causes of death and ways to reduce or prevent it, we can enjoy the benefits of clean wind power without putting bats at risk.

Like so many other living things, bats illustrate how everything in nature is interconnected and that harming one plant or animal or ecosystem has cascading effects that touch us all. If we don’t do everything we can to help bats, we’ll all suffer — and not just from mosquito bites!

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. This column was written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation editorial and communications specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed eight additional virus-deaths Monday afternoon including one in central zone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
New record: Red Deer at 236 active COVID cases

One more death in central zone reported

The City of Red Deer is still repaying two loans for the Sorensen Station parkade, which are contributing to a deficit in the parking revenue fund. (Advocate staff)
Dropping parking revenues in Red Deer are creating a deficit

Loan repayments for the cost of the parkade are straining reserves

Red Deer firefighters look for coloured tags on downtown fire hydrants to determine water pressure levels before connecting their hoses to fight blazes, such as this fire at a low-income housing complex last summer. (Advocate file photo.)
Tagged fire hydrants are some of the City of Red Deer’s new innovations

New ideas are being generated to improve services or save money: general-manager

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
‘Fake’ police officers demand money, Red Deer RCMP warn of scam

Red Deer RCMP are warning the public of a concerning incident where… Continue reading

The sit-down area of Red Deer's Tim Hortons at 3020 22nd St. was closed to the public on Monday because of an "evolving health situation." The drive-through was open and remained busy.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Red Deer Tim Hortons restaurant dining room closed due to “evolving health situation”

Drive-through at Tim Hortons in southeast Red Deer remained open

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Vancouver Whitecaps forward Fredy Montero celebrates after scoring a goal against the Los Angeles Galaxy during the second half of an MLS soccer match in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. The Vancouver Whitecaps are hanging on to several of their young players and continuing contract talks with two veterans, including Montero. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Steve Dipaola
Whitecaps exercise options on seven players, ‘continuing discussions’ with Montero

Whitecaps exercise options on seven players, ‘continuing discussions’ with Montero

Toronto FC forward Pablo Piatti (7) cuts past Vancouver Whitecaps defender Ali Adnan (53) during first half MLS Canadian Championship soccer action in Toronto on Friday, August 21, 2020. Barring a new agreement, Toronto FC is parting ways with designated player Pablo Piatti. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Toronto FC looks for new designated player, opts not to pick up Piatti option

Toronto FC looks for new designated player, opts not to pick up Piatti option

Hamilton Forge FC players celebrate their win over CD Olimpia's during Scotiabank CONCACAF League 2019 action in Hamilton, Ont., Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. After a season that has taken it from Hamilton to Charlottetown, El Salvador and Panama, Forge FC hopes the Dominican Republic is the last stop on the way to the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Forge FC just one win away from booking ticket to CONCACAF Champions League

Forge FC just one win away from booking ticket to CONCACAF Champions League

A police officer patrols near the Olympic Symbol being transported on a barge in the Odaiba section Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, in Tokyo. The five Olympic rings are back in Tokyo Bay. They were removed for maintenance four months ago shortly after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed until next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Olympic rings back in Tokyo Bay; a sign of hope in pandemic

Olympic rings back in Tokyo Bay; a sign of hope in pandemic

Ottawa Redblacks player Brad Sinopoli speaks to reporters as the team clears out of the locker room, in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. Sinopoli fully understands the challenge Kendall Hinton faced Sunday with the Denver Broncos. The Broncos activated Hinton, a receiver, from the practice roster to become the starting quarterback in Sunday's 31-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Former quarterback Brad Sinopoli can appreciate challenges Hinton faced with Broncos

Former quarterback Brad Sinopoli can appreciate challenges Hinton faced with Broncos

Hamilton Forge FC players Giuliano Frano (8) and David Edgar (30) celebrate their team's win over CD Olimpia's during Scotiabank CONCACAF League 2019 action in Hamilton, Ontario on Thursday, August 22, 2019. Edgar, who announced today he is retiring at the end of the year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Veteran Canadian centre back David Edgar to retire at end of the year

Veteran Canadian centre back David Edgar to retire at end of the year

Sanctuary volunteer Angie Birch greets Wolfdog Rue as she goes through her daily chores at the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, Cochrane Alberta on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley
‘My heartdog’: Misunderstood wolfdogs get permanent home at sanctuary near Calgary

‘My heartdog’: Misunderstood wolfdogs get permanent home at sanctuary near Calgary

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Quebec Premier Francois Legault leave a news conference in Ottawa on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. Kenney says Alberta’s largest hospitals are at 91 per cent capacity due to COVID-19 cases and widespread cancellation of more non-urgent surgeries may be necessary. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Alberta premier says hospitals stressed by COVID-19, more surgeries may be cancelled

Alberta premier says hospitals stressed by COVID-19, more surgeries may be cancelled

Most Read