Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service
“People are not going to care about animal conservation unless they think that animals are worthwhile.” ~ David Attenborough
Seven years ago, when Scott and I visited Bracken Cave — summer home and nursery to 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats — we knew that the fungus called Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) had already decimated some 80% of hibernating colonies of bats all over the United States. This ‘white-nose syndrome’ was waking bats up during their annual winter slumber, causing them to essentially starve to death from an increased metabolism and no food.
Last May, Pd was detected in Bracken Cave. What does this mean for the Mexican free-tailed bat? Maybe nothing. This bat doesn’t hibernate in Texas — they migrate instead. Those that do over-winter stay active by coming out during warm nights, entering something more like torpor instead. Ours is a seasonably long tropical climate that is winter on the Houston Gulf Coast. Many bats survive it unscathed.
But the fungus arriving in Texas means it is most likely here to stay. They will have to adapt to it just like other bat species. Thank goodness the people with Bat Conservation Int’l are on top of it, watching and logging their numbers. An 80% reduction of the most resilient and abundant bat species in the United States would be catastrophic for us humans who rely on their free ‘pest control’ services. We’d better pay attention.
Last Friday, I watched for the first time in my hometown as 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats emerged out from under the Waugh Bridge. On Monday, I helped 4th graders at the county fair appreciate these beautiful creatures with my fellow Master Naturalists.
This land is your land, this land is my land. This land is their land too. Join me as I appreciate bats for all they do for us, largely unnoticed.
~ Shannon @ DirtNKids Blog
Caring Houstonians rescue drowning bats, Harvey flood 2017.
[Email readers: Above is an embedded YouTube video. You will have to view it at the blog.]
My Super Hero — The Bat
How many insects do 20 million bats eat each night?
250 tons. That’s the equivalent to 10 train cars in tiny insects … every night.
With all those insects each night, they must make a lot of poop.
Yup. In fact, there is so much poop — called guano — that ammonia levels in the roost (due to the dermistid beetles in it) rise to toxic levels for humans. They have evolved a biological way to buffer their blood with increased CO2 so that the ammonia doesn’t damage their lungs. A treasured organic fertilizer, guano is also an excellent compost activator, the diverse bacteria colony speeding up the decomposition process of slower organics in one’s garden.
How big is a bat family?
Bats are social and can live to be 10-20 years old. Bats in Bracken cave are flying with their great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmothers!
What foods that we eat (or drink) can we thank the bats for?
Banana, cacao, dates, cashews, mango, figs, cactus fruit, tequila … all pollinated at night. Unlike the honey bee, which is not a native and typically managed by humans, bats carry on with their chore without our help. Without bat-pollinated margaritas, human parents may go extinct.
Without feathers, how does a bat even fly?
Its extended finger appendages and thin skin membrane create lift. They are the only true mammals that can fly, not just glide.
How fast is a bat?
The Mexican free-tailed bat is very fast, called ‘the jet of the bat world.’ They can fly more than 250 miles in one day during their migration.
How can they see where they’re flying at night?
Bats have excellent eye-sight — better than humans — but they use echolocation to find prey in the dark. They emit high frequency sound waves, a biological sonar, then listen for the return of that sound bounced off of the object. They can pinpoint a mosquito flying near your head, swoop down, catch and eat it, and not touch a single hair on your head. SUPER. POWER.