My inbox has been filling up with press releases about bats this month. Yes, yes. Halloween is the hook for natural resource managers to remind us all that "bats don't deserve their scary reputation."
After all, biologists say, they're actually quite passive and shy, and they prefer to avoid human contact. They're awesome at pest control. A single brown bat can eat 1200 mosquitoes in one hour. That's not scary!
Bats are so not scary, in fact, that the organizers of the 2012 Olympics are wooing them to roost at the summer games in London.
A wee notch higher on the scare-o-meter: bats can squeeze through a half-inch hole in your house. Less than 1 percent of them have rabies. And, yes, there are vampire bats that live on blood. But all three species live in Central and South America, and they only drink like 2 tablespoons from sleeping animals at night.
Experts say what's really scary about bats is the loss of their natural habitat and the fungus that's wiping them out across the U.S and Canada. Some are freaked about the number of bats that are mysteriously dying near wind farms.
A U.S. Geological Service study published last week confirmed the specific fungus responsible for white-nose syndrome. The illness has killed a million bats in recent years as it spread westward from New York. The fungus is spread bat-to-bat, the study concluded, but limiting human access to caves is still part of the strategy to controlling it.
Now that scientists know which fungus it is, they can consider additional control strategies such as vaccination.
"By identifying what causes WNS, this study will greatly enhance the ability of decision makers to develop management strategies to preserve vulnerable bat populations and the ecosystem services that they provide in the U.S. and Canada," said Anne Kinsinger, USGS Associate Director of Ecosystems.
On the habitat front, many bat species are suffering from a loss of snags and hollow trees in forests. You can provide supplemental habitat for bats by putting a bat box in your yard.
And the Oregon Department of Transportation is already helping the cause at 80 bridges across the state. The agency has partnered with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a Bat Habitat Enhancement standard for bridge designers. That's right; dozens of bridges have specially designed nesting boxes for bats, space for bats within girder structures, and textured concrete that allow bats to thermoregulate.
Just for fun, here's an Oregon Field Guide video on Oregon's Townsend big-eared bat: