Originally published April 11 2008
First It Was Bees, Now It's Bats That Are Dying
by Heidi Stevenson
(NaturalNews) Though bats are a bit spooky looking, inviting thoughts of Dracula, the real horror story is that bats are becoming sick and perishing. A massive bat die-off is happening. Their extinction in the United States is threatening -- and no one knows why.
Just as news of the massive bee die off is fading away -- though not actually ending -- the plight of bats in the United States is starting to come out. The loss of bats may be an even worse concern than the loss of bees, which are exclusively tame and mass-raised -- over-stressed, over-bred, and grown to be over-sized. They're used to pollinate crops, especially ones that are not natural to the areas in which they're grown, such as almonds in California. Wild bees are doing just fine.
In contrast, the lost bats are all wild. They are the world's greatest insect eaters. A single nursing bat can eat half its weight in insects every day. A small brown bat can eat as many as 600 mosquitoes in an hour. The implications for agriculture are enormous. The spread of severe communicable diseases could be devastating.
The epicenter of this annihilation is New York, but there are reports of die offs from as far away as Texas. Reports began trickling in last year. It started with hikers noticing dead and dying bats littered outside the caves where they hibernate. They do not normally fly during the winter or daytime, and it was quickly realized that bats flying when they should be hibernating do not survive. They are, therefore, being called "dead bats flying". The loss of bats has cascaded this winter to the point where researchers are expressing fear that an extinction is underway.
The cause is unknown, though there is a name for the phenomenon, White Nose Syndrome. It's the result of a fungus that's particularly obvious on the nose and face, though it's found dotted all over the bats' bodies. It is believed, though, to be only a symptom of an underlying problem, as yet unknown. There are theories, of course. Causes like virus and bacterial infections are possible. Many bats have been found to have pneumonia, but it is considered to be a secondary symptom, like the fungus.
A more likely cause of bat die off is the use of pesticides. Bats are known to be sensitive to the same toxins used to kill insects -- just as we humans are. The fact that there are newly-introduced pesticides, specifically designed to stop West Nile Virus, is suspicious. It may be that the bats are starving from lack of food as a result of the new pesticides' effectiveness. This could be the worst possible scenario, since the ultimate effect of all pesticides has been the development of pesticide-resistant insects. If the bats disappear because of starvation, then eventually, when the insects have become resistant, there will be nothing to control them.
There is reason to believe that starvation is the primary cause of death. Dead bats' fat reserves are depleted. Whether this is the result of infection, toxins, or loss of food is unknown.
The bats' behavior is severely disturbed. As previously noted, they never fly during the day or in winter. Only sick and dying bats have been emerging from their caves during the day in the winter, when they are normally hibernating. They are also noted to be hibernating close the the caves' entrances, in contrast with their usual inclination to go deeper inside. This might be the result of being forced to search for food, but may also be caused by another disturbance. Many diseases change the behavior of their victims. A well-known example of this is aggressiveness and fear of water in rabies victims.
What Bat Die-Off Means to Humanity
The first problem people note may be a profusion of mosquitoes this year. Bats are nature's primary means of controlling mosquito populations. Although it's possible that the excessive use of pesticides will keep this under control temporarily, the day must come when the piper will be paid, as new toxin-resistant mosquitoes develop. Ultimately, these diseases are likely to multiply aggressively -- but by then, the bats that keep them under control may be gone.
Major diseases borne by mosquitoes include West Nile Fever, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Malaria, and Dengue Fever. All of them are severe and life-threatening.
Crops may be affected. Bats are significant controllers of many crop-destructive insects. As with diseases, the severity of the risk is dependent on how long it takes to manifest -- the longer, the worse the effects. If pesticide use results in crop loss occurring later, after the bats are gone, then it is likely to be devastating.
What the Experts Are Saying
The president of Bat Conservation International, Merlin Tuttle, has stated, "So far as we can tell at this point, this may be the most serious threat to North American bats we've experienced in recorded history."
A wildlife biologist with Vermont's Fish and Wildlife Department, Scott Darling says, "Logic dictates when you are potentially losing as many as a half a million bats in this region, there are going to be ramifications for insect abundance in the coming summer." "Ramifications for insect abundance" can be translated as massive mosquito outbreaks.
Unfortunately, there is much about bats that is unknown. Even how many exist is in question, as new hibernacula (caves where bats hibernate) are being discovered as bat bodies littered at previously unknown cave entrances are discovered. This means that the benefits of bats' voracious insect-eating habits have gone unrecorded, indicating that the cost of their loss may be even greater than realized. Elizabeth Buckles, an assistant professor at Cornell who coordinates bat research, has said, "We're going to learn an awful lot about bats in a comprehensive way that very few animal species have been looked at. That's good. But it's unfortunate it has to be under these circumstances."
A study of the impact of Brazilian free-tailed bats of southwestern Texas has shown their economic value to cotton farmers to be worth between one-eighth and one-sixth of the commercial value of the crops.
Further complicating the issue is the fact that most bats can raise only one offspring a year. Thomas French, assistant director for natural heritage and endangered species of MassWildLife in Massachusetts, says, "High bat mortality is a major concern because bats have a low reproductive rate. Most bats raise one pup per year. It will take decades for bat populations to rebound after a large die-off."
Al Hicks, of New York's Environmental Conservation Department, was the first New Yorker to study the issue. Ironically, he came into this issue attempting to delist a species called pink-nosed bats. Now, though, he says, "If we assume only 50 percent decline at the new sites, we are talking hundreds of thousands of bats that could die." New York has seen at least one bat cave's population crash by 90% this winter.
Once again, we're seeing the results of arrogance in ignoring nature's balance. In thinking that we can do it better than nature, the result is devastation. Whether it's pesticides or something else wrought by behavior that results from short-term profit-oriented thinking, rather than concern for the planet that has nurtured us, the bats are under threat. Whether it's the loss of bees or bats or some other creature or plant, in the end, we lose, too. Ultimately, the lesson that Mother Nature cannot be fooled will be learned. Will it require the extinction of humans?
About the author* Heidi Stevenson, BSc, DIHom, FBIH
* Fellow, British Institute of Homeopathy
* Gaia Health (http://www.gaia-health.com)
* The author is a homeopath who became concerned with medically-induced harm as a result of her own experiences and those of family members. She says that allopathic medicine is the arena that best describes the motto, "Buyer beware."
* Heidi Stevenson provides information about medically-induced disease and disability, along with incisive well-researched articles on major issues in the modern world, so members of the public can protect themselves.
She can be reached through her website: www.gaia-health.com
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