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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog

Bats are…


Bats are scary, gross and dangerous.  There are a lot of myths about bats and these myths have created fear of these unique creatures.  The fear of bats or Chiroptophobia is of concern as bats play an important role in the ecosystems in which they live. They also help to reduce the cost of farming.  It is estimated that bats in the US are worth more than $3.7 billion in reduced crop damage associated with insects.  Bats play an important role in keeping you safe and comfortable in your backyard.  Many bats can eat their body weight in insects each night, and this means fewer bug bites for you.  But bats are threatened each day and across the US bat populations are declining.  So I would say that bats are important and they need our help.

For many years bats were thought to be so numerous that there was no reason to count them.  However, in recent years threats to bat populations across the US have occurred so keeping a closer eye on the number of bats is much more important.

In the US there are a number of threats to the populations of bats.  These threats include loss of summer roosting sites and, most significantly, White Nose Syndrome (WNS), a disease caused by a cold-loving fungus. WNS is decimating bat populations, killing an estimated 5.7 million bats since its arrival in 2006.  WNS started in Canada and the Northeast and has moved rapidly through the US making its way as far west as Oklahoma in just nine years.  WNS affects hibernating bats by repeatedly disrupting their hibernation. This disruption causes them to starve by burning up fat stores or freeze to death by venturing out of their hibernation site.  WNS is transmitted primarily bat to bat; but as a fungus, it creates very hardy spores. These spores can stay in caves for extended periods potentially infecting future populations that might choose the cave as a hibernation site in the future.  In extreme cases, WNS has destroyed entire bat colonies.

There are 12 species of bats found in Illinois for part or all of the year.  Three of these species are listed as either endangered or threatened, and all three of these species are affected by WNS.  The Indiana Bat and Northern Long Eared Bat are both known to hibernate in Illinois. The Gray Bat generally migrated out of the state to hibernate, but has been found hibernating in Illinois.

So what can you do to help?  You can provide summer roosting sites.  Bat boxes are an excellent addition to your yard.  You can install a bat box on the side of a building or on a free standing pole or post.  Choosing a good location is the key to having bats use the bat box and Bat Conservation International (www.batcon.org) has a great guide to installing bat boxes.  And learn about WNS and take steps to stop the spread of this disease.  When you are visiting caves and other potential hibernation sites, follow all rules and suggestions on how to disinfect yourself and equipment before and after entering the sites.

For more information on bats and the benefits that they provide, please contact Jason Haupt (jdhaupt@illinois.edu).

 



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