Normally we talk about bats in October, with Halloween just around the corner. But we decided to focus on these creepy-cute creatures today not only because tonight is International Bat Night but also because bats in the United States are in danger and need our help.
Bats have long been feared and misunderstood, but did you know they are actually beneficial to humans? Of approximately 950 bat species in the world, 45 are found in North America. They help balance populations of night-flying insects, including mosquitoes in our backyards and pests that cost farmers billions of dollars annually. Bats also disperse seeds from fruits, and they are vital to the pollination of desert plants in the American Southwest.
Other bat-tastic facts:
- Bats are not blind. In fact, many have superb night vision.
- Bats possess sonar and use a process called echolocation to distinguish prey from obstacles while in flight. They can distinguish general background noise from echoes that carry important information, and each bat in a cave full of other bats is able to follow its own signals.
- Contrary to myth, contracting rabies from bats is an extremely remote threat for anyone who vaccinates pets, avoids handling unfamiliar animals, and seeks medical advice if bitten.
In 2002, we issued a pane of stamps featuring photographs of four different bats found in the continental U.S. Since then, bat survival has been seriously threatened.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, white-nose syndrome, which was discovered around 2006, has killed millions of bats in more than 20 states across the country. This fungal infection causes hibernating bats to wake up too early in winter, when there are very few insects around for them to eat. Scientists are studying the disease, but there is no treatment yet. Other bats are threatened by the destruction of their habitats.
To find out what you can do to help, the best place to start is Bat Conservation International, an organization based in Austin, Texas, that is dedicated to protecting and restoring bats and their habitats worldwide. You can read about bats and their environments, learn how to build a backyard bat house, and even read some bat poetry!
And don’t forget about International Bat Night, held every year in August. Check local listings for an event near you.