By Gabe Maggio
(WINDSOR, ON) – There has been much discussion and commentary on social media concerning bees and the on-going colony collapse, as well the recent scarcity of butterflies. We all know that both of these insects play a critical role in our survival as a species as they are well known to be the pollinators of much of the food we eat. Without the bees and the butterflies many have speculated that humans would not survive much long after their disappearance.
It therefore behoves each one of us to help protect and repopulate both the bees and the butterflies without delay.
There is, however, another great pollinator that doesn’t get enough attention, but is also in serious decline; the bat.
Since 2006, at least one million insect-eating bats have died from White Nose Syndrome (WNS); a fungus which makes bats leave hibernation early, causing them to starve. Reportedly, 40% of North American bat species are endangered.
In April this year, WNS was discovered to have reached Michigan and Wisconsin. Researchers currently estimate bat populations in decline in the New England states since the arrival of WNS.
The full consequence of bat population reductions are not yet fully known. However, since bats consume large amounts of insects, a recent economic study indicated that the impact could result in losses of between $4 to $50 Billion per year, just in the US. Obviously farmers will bear the brunt of the impact.
One brown bat can eat over 600 mosquitoes in just an hour. With a life span sometimes exceeding 32 years, the positive impact by just one bat are immeasurable.
The primary problem is that people are often afraid of bats and want nothing to do with them. Raising awareness and getting help for the bats is not as simple as the attention the bees and butterflies have drawn. Bats have a bad reputation and people are not as likely to help prevent their decline.
This is quite unfortunate as bats have an important role to play, not only in the food chain, but in the survival of the human species. Their position is vital in ecosystems throughout the world.
Bats are also major pollinators. They help to move pollen from the stamen to the pistil, and bats ingest the nectar as they fly from flower to flower. As a result, they are essential to our world’s forests, pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds for countless trees and other plants.
According to a report by the United States Geological Services, bananas, mangoes, cashews, dates, avocadoes, peaches, cloves, and figs (to name just a few) rely on bats for pollination. Without pollinating and seed-dispersing bats, many ecosystems would gradually die out. Plants would fail to provide food and cover for wildlife species near the base of the food chain.
If these plants die, wildlife will die off, causing entire ecosystems to deteriorate.
Last weekend I finally built a bat house and mounted it onto an old tree in my backyard. From what I have read it can take about six months before bats will begin to use it on a regular basis. If this holds true, perhaps they will use it to repopulate and help reduce mosquitos in my backyard and help to keep us safe from the West Nile Virus.
Because bats eat large amounts of mosquitoes, they also help control viruses spread by insects such as the West Nile. This alone should be argument enough to spread the word that helping the bats is in our interest.
Still not convinced?
Bats also produce guano (a by-product in bat manure). Guano is rich in nitrogen which is optimal for agricultural fertilization. Promoting and protecting bats means not only fewer toxic pesticides entering our environment but also we can be assured that we may continue on without the risk of losing our natural wildlife and food sources.
So in essence, it is a good thing to have “bats in your belfry.”
Gabe Maggio is a candidate for Windsor City Council in Ward 3.