Recently, a story appeared in a local newspaper about bats in Limestone County testing positive for a disease called white-nose syndrome, which can be devastating to bat populations. We have also heard for some time now that our bee populations are declining. According to the Ecological Society of America (ESA), the wild honeybee populations have dropped 25% since 1990. A loss of pollinators and insect eaters will result in higher food costs and increased use of insecticides in agriculture. It is a problem that will affect everyone.
Bats are very misunderstood and extremely important to our natural world. There are 16 species of bats in Alabama, all of which are insect-eating mammals. According to the Alabama Bat Working Group, one small colony of 150 bats can eat up to 33 million crop pests in a single summer. I would hate to think of the amount of pesticides needed if not for the bats!
Of course, bats don't just fly over farmland. They also eat mosquitoes and other insects in our own back yards. One bat can eat 36,000 insects in a month! That is a lot of insects that won't be bugging you and me!
According to the Alabama Bat Working Group website, bats are gentle and won't attack you. They are not interested in getting tangled in your hair, and they won't suck your blood! They just want to fill their bellies and go home to take a nap. If a bat flies close to you, it is most likely targeting insects that are flying near you. Although bats can carry rabies, the incidence of infected bats is low. It is still recommended that you do not handle bats, especially if they are found on the ground.
Bats have very few predators. It is humans that are the biggest factor in the decline in bat populations. Factors such as destruction of habitats, direct killing, vandalism, disturbance of hibernating colonies, and use of pesticides and other chemicals all affect bat population. Remember, they eat the bugs we spray with poisons.
Another huge problem facing bats is white-nose syndrome, a fungus that grows in the caves in which bats hibernate. The following is a link to a video that explains white-nose syndrome and attempts being made to contain the spread of the fungus to other bat caves. It is sad to learn that Limestone County has now seen evidence of this disease.
Just like bats, many people fear bees and kill them when they can. We must remember that honeybees are our most important pollinators. These bees help pollinate more than 150 different crops in the United Stated. Just about every fruit, vegetable, and grain must be pollinated in order to produce a crop.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists more than 50 pollinator species as threatened or endangered. Honeybees are on that list. One of the greatest mysteries is Colony Collapse Disorder which, according to the USDA, is defined as a colony with no adult bees and no bodies, and a live queen, honey, and immature bees present. A scientific cause has yet to be proven.
The collapse of our honeybee colonies and bat populations is a serious threat to food production. Increased need for insecticides due to lack of bats and a need to use managed honeybees for pollination due to a lack of native pollinators will increase costs significantly. The negative impact of increased use of insecticides would take a separate article to discuss.
How Can You Help?
• Plant a variety of native flowering plants which are inviting to pollinators. Encourage the use of native flowers in area landscaping.
• Use as few pesticides as possible in and around your home, and seek those that are the least harmful to the environment.
• Help local clubs or school groups build butterfly gardens, bat houses, and bee boxes.
• Educate yourself on these topics. Get in touch with and support local organizations working toward solving these problems.
For more information, visit:
Alabama Bat Working Group Facebook Page.
Ecological Society of America: www.esa.org
Agriculture Research Service, USDA: www.ars.usda.gov
"Predicting the effects of the loss of a particular pollinator is extremely difficult, but it is important to remember that no species exists in isolation. Each is part of an ecological web, and as we lose more and more pieces of that web, the remaining structure must eventually collapse."
Carol A. Kearns and David Inouye
By: Lynne Hart