To kill a mocking…bat

I would say I have at least a cursory interest in every animal I’ve ever read about or seen in a documentary. Life is life. It’s all interesting. (Read Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor Tale.) But for the past 3 years (as of this July), I’ve had a special interest in bats. You see, I deal with an invasion in my ceiling of the little things every summer. I’m not sure if it’s really beautiful or just creepy hearing them scamper about, but I do enjoy laying awake listening to them. At least, I enjoy them until they manage to get inside. At that point it’s a matter of catching them with a blanket before the cats catch them with a set of claws and teeth. It wouldn’t be so bad if 1) I didn’t have to get my indoor cats preventative shots I otherwise wouldn’t have bought and 2) there wasn’t the ongoing white nose syndrome epidemic going on with bats. The disease so far appears to be limited to bats – decimating huge colonies – but since it isn’t very well understood at all yet, I don’t like the idea of exposing my animals to it (or myself).

But even with limited understanding, an interesting question is raised. Can we help to prevent its spread? One line of thinking says we can by destroying infected bats. But others are calling on the power of evolution:

Kentucky wildlife officials acted quickly when a confirmed case of the disease was found in a bat in Trigg County recently. They euthanized 60 “highly suspect” bats that were “not expected to survive,” they said Wednesday…

Local and national experts, however, believe euthanizing infected bats may not prevent the spread of the disease and could be “counterproductive” to the effort.

Dr. Merlin Tuttle, founder of Bat Conservation International, said white nose syndrome has reached epidemic levels, killing more than 1 million bats since 2006. He said in cases, like this one, where a disease has a very high mortality rate, it is important to see if some infected bats are able to fight off the disease. That way, those with immunities to a disease are able to pass on that ability to their offspring, eventually re-populating the species with bats that can withstand the disease.

“If you kill every bat that gets (the disease), it’s pretty hard to see who survives,” said Tuttle, who has studied bats for more than 50 years. “Just because you get sick, it doesn’t mean you die.”

It isn’t an easy call. Bats are dying in record numbers. Something clearly must be done. Evolution may provide the doing – after all, bats have been around for 50-55 million years – but if humans can successfully intervene, then we should. The problem is that we just don’t really know how to go about it.

2 Responses

  1. Could you explain why we should intervene? Assuming that we establish its a natural cause of course.

  2. They are tremendously prodigious animals, making up something crazy like 20-25% of all mammal species. As a result of how common and pervasive they are, they constitute major cogs in a number of ecosystems. For example, when you swat away 1,347 mosquitoes on your next camping trip, it will be because there are so many bats. Without them that number would be more like 42 gazillion (rough estimate).

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