An overlooked but distressing report was released last month by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
Bat crash in Canada is cause for great concern.
Sandy Dobbyn photo
In a nutshell, the committee recommended placing three species of bats on the endangered species list. Of particular note was the inclusion on the list of the once very common Little Brown Bat (Myotis).
This amazing little creature is likely the one that you are familiar with as it willingly finds refuge in attics, caves and our cottages.
The unprecedented mortality in Canada’s native bat species is largely caused by the pathogen responsible for White-nose Syndrome, a virus that attacks bats while they are hibernating and interrupts their dormancy period resulting in bats awakening too early and subsequently freezing or starving to death.
The syndrome poses a serious and imminent threat to the survival of several bat species with populations already crashing at an alarming rate.
White-nose Syndrome, as the name suggests, is characterized by white fungal growths on the nose of infected bats and has already been responsible for the deaths of over five million bats in North America alone. Although it seems clear that the virus originated in Europe, little else is known about it and there is no known way to control the spread of the disease.
So why should we care?
Well, to begin with, bats are absolutely amazing at capturing insects. Because they use a unique sonar system called echolocation, they can eat up to ten insects a minute and a large part of their diet is the pesky mosquito. In fact, according to scientific researches, a bat can eat half of its body weight in insects in just one night. You try doing that!
It is not just the enjoyment of our leisure time that will be affected by the decline in our bat population. COSEWIC notes that bats provide tremendous value to the economy as natural pest control for farms and forests every year, and may play an important role in helping to control insects that spread disease to people.
US researchers have estimated that the bat die-off will cost North American agriculture $3.7 billion dollars annually.
Wow. It seems our little fury winged friends are a little more important that we realized.
Unfortunately bats have a bad reputation that is completely uncalled for. We fear bats because we think that an airborne bat is likely to get tangled in our hair (very unlikely since their sonar can detect even the most minute of insects) or we think that bats are likely to have rabies.
Although it is always wise to use caution around bats as even healthy bats will bite if they are threatened, the actual evidence of rabies in the bat population is fairly small and incidents of human infection are few and far between and almost always a result of careless handling of sick bats.
Yet, we still loathe these fascinating creatures despite their obvious benefit and relatively unobtrusive existence.
The funny thing is that while all bats in Canada are strictly insect eaters and only a few deaths related to disease can ever be attributed to interaction with bats, one of the main food sources of our nocturnal friends, the mosquito, results in worldwide deaths of literally millions of people thorough mosquito-borne diseases.
Ironic isn’t it and yet another reason why, instead of exterminating our bat friends, we should build them a bat house and tip our hats to our protectors in the night sky.
They are welcome at my cottage.