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Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon works to protect birds and other wildlife, and the habitats upon which they depend through education, public advocacy and conservation action.

President's Message - Bats are Cool

Summer 2015

Message from the HOBAS President Stella Miller

Bats Are Cool!

At Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon, we work to protect wildlife and preserve habitat. We do this through conservation action, advocacy, education and awareness. Awareness is an important component of conservation because in order to bring about action, one first must be aware of the issue. An informed mind leads to compassion which in turn inspires action. In addition to a lack of knowledge on the part of humans, many animals are misunderstood or maligned without reason due to myths and misinformation. One animal that has received a bum rap is the bat. When it comes to these flying mammals, the myths are never ending: bats are blind, riddled with deadly diseases, dangerous, scary and let’s not forget the old wives tale about bats becoming entangled in people’s hair. Luckily for bats, more people are becoming aware of how important they are to our ecosystems, our economies and our health. I hope to dispel some of the myths here and guide you into looking upon bats a little more kindly. Even if you do not grow to love bats (as I do), there are very good reasons to respect them.

Bats can be found all over the world, except for polar regions. They belong to the order Chiroptera, the second largest order of mammals in the world (rodents being the largest). Over 20% of mammals worldwide are bats and they are the only mammals that are capable of true powered flight over sustained distances. Other “flying” mammals, such as the flying squirrel do not actually fly, they simply glide. Bats range in size from the larger megabats which include the flying fox, found in Indonesia, with a six foot wing span (and weighing over 2 pounds) to the small microbats such as the diminutive Kitti’s hog- nosed bat, weighing a mere 2 grams and measuring up to 1.3” in length. Up to 70% of bat species are insectivores, while the remaining species feast on a diverse diet that includes nectar, pollen, small fish and mammals, fruit and in the case of the well-known vampire bat, the blood of mammals (just as aside, vampires do not suck blood. They lap it up. Doesn’t that sound much more refined to the squeamish.)

Bats hunt by using echolocation, which is the use of sound waves and echoes to determine the location of objects. To do this, they send out sound waves from their nose or mouth. As the sound waves hits an object it will produce and echo which bounces back to the bat’s ears. Bats are able to determine the location, size and shape of an object from these echoes.

So, what can bats do for us? One service they provide is pest control. Insectivore bats consume nocturnal insects and a single little brown bat, found here on Long Island, can devour more than 1,000 mosquito sized insects in just one hour, positioning them as critical crusaders in the battle against insect pests. This free service provided by bats is worth billions dollars each year (A recent study found that the value of bats’ pest-control services in the United States ranges from $3.7 billion to $53 billion per year). Without bats our demand for chemical pesticides would increase tremendously, affecting our economies, and putting human health at risk, as well as our ecosystems.

In addition to controlling insects, many bats are important pollinators. As a keystone species (a plant or animal that plays a critical and unique role in an ecosystem), bats are essential to many ecosystems. In the tropics, up to 500 plant species depend on bats for seed dispersal and pollination. This relationship is a priceless one as these plants provide us with more than 450 economically valuable products which are valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Rain forests and agricultural plants such as bananas, mangoes, dates and cashews rely on bats. Saguaro cacti in the Sonoran desert of Mexico and the Southwestern US are incapable of self-fertilization and are dependent upon the lesser long-nosed bat, which pollinates this plant and is key to the entire Sonoran ecosystem.

Do you like a nice margarita on a Friday night? If you do, please thank a bat. Tequila is produced from the agave plant which is highly dependent upon bat pollination and seed dispersal. Perhaps tequila producers ought to jump into the public relations arena in order to bring about awareness of the critical role bats play in our lives!

In addition, guano, aka bat droppings, are a popular fertilizer and also support entire ecosystems within the caves that bats dwell. Finally, an anticoagulant from vampire bat saliva is being tested as potential medicine to treat stroke victims. As for rabies, only about 1% of bats will contract rabies, a disease that most mammals are susceptible to. As long as you don’t handle bats, your chances of contracting this disease are next to nil. Remember, any animal will bite in self-defense, and bats are no exception. And let’s put one well-worn myth to bed: bats do not become entangled in our hair. That one is just utter nonsense.

As you can see, bats are pretty neat, and pretty important to us. But unfortunately, bats are in trouble. Since 2006 an estimated 6.7 million bats have perished from an insidious disease known as White-Nosed Syndrome (“WNS”), a fungus that appears to have been introduced to North America from Europe (interestingly, bats in Europe seem to have developed an immunity to the disease). Discovered in New York in 2006, this epidemic is considered the worst outbreak of any type of wildlife disease in North American history and it has left entire colonies completely wiped out. In hibernating bats WNS affects the skin of bats, including the wings, causing them to wake up frequently during the winter, eating up precious fat reserves and energy. These bats often have white fuzz around their muzzles, giving the fungus its name. Sadly, 70 to 90% of bats (and in some cases 100%) in an affected hibernation area will be killed once WNS invades their sanctuary. To date, scientists, biologists and universities are seeking out the means to control this deadly disease as it spreads westward.

Another threat facing bats are wind turbines. Surprisingly, bats are impacted more often than birds by turbines and its estimated that tens of thousands perish each year. While alternative energy is critical to our future, it is just as critical that those planning wind facility sites collaborate with conservation organizations so that wildlife and habitat is not negatively impacted. We share our world with wildlife and we must remember this and be mindful and respectful of this.

The bottom line is this: bats are beneficial to our health, economies and ecosystems. But they are in trouble and need our help. It is time that people understood just how much we depend on bats and how devastating it would be should we lose them. For more information about bats, including some super cool facts and what you can do to help, please visit our website at http://www.hobaudubon.org/bats.asp. Here you will find fact sheets, links and a very cute video put together by school children in Indiana!

And remember:

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge's West Pond

Sign the petition here

HOBAS field trip - 2010

More than a year ago, Hurricane Sandy breached the freshwater West Pond in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (JBWR) located in Queens, New York City. JBWR is part of the National Park Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area and is a very popular destination because of its diverse wildlife and the opportunity to see many of the 330 species of birds that have been recorded there. Now salt water flows freely from the bay into the West Pond, and has utterly destroyed its prized freshwater ecosystem. Before Sandy, the pond teemed with a diversity of birds and other wildlife at all seasons, but now it is virtually devoid of interesting wildlife. The National Park Service has not acted to restore the pond and is making decisions that could potentially result in the permanent loss of this avian oasis!

The 45-acre West Pond, situated along the Atlantic flyway, was the only significant freshwater habitat in the coastal ecosystem of New York City. It is listed as an international Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International and the National Audubon Society.

The West Pond used to be home to many breeding and migratory waterfowl and coastal birds. Several of these species are listed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as Species of Greatest Conservation Need. In addition, the area around the West Pond had been critical nesting habitat for the threatened Diamondback Terrapinand a great variety of butterflies and other insect life.

The NPS and Gateway National Recreation Area are considering restoration options, and there is a real risk that they will decide not to restore the West Pond at all (see The New York Times, February 10, 2014). The time for action is now. Tell the National Park Service that you want the West Pond restored, to support freshwater habitat for birds and other wildlife. By signing this petition, you will help to restore this local, national and international treasure.

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