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Why Sick Bats Are No Joke

It's a real live scientific whodunit: Bats across the Northeast are dropping dead. The cause? No one's quite sure, although the vast majority of bat corpses have been found with some manner of white fungus furring over their noses, ears, and wings, so that's tops on the list of culprits. One of the prevailing theories is that the fungus interferes with the bats' hibernation cycle, causing them to burn through stored fat way too fast.

In any case, the results haven't been pretty. At last count, the fungus has claimed some one million victims, and Congress is thinking about boosting funds for research (chiropterologists aren't even sure if, for instance, the fungus is spread by people exploring recreational caves or what). But hang on: Congress? Why should they care about bats? Why should anyone care about bats? Peter Brown in Scientific American offers a few reasons:

People could soon feel the devastating effects of white nose syndrome (WNS) among bats. The most immediate change may be the number of mosquito bites people get this summer. According to Greg Turner of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, a bat may consume as much as its own weight in insects each night, including mosquitoes. Bat guru Merlin D. Tuttle, who founded Bat Conservation International, notes that bats are the primary predators of pests that “cost American farmers and foresters billions of dollars annually.”

If WNS spreads to the American South and West, it could also lead to huge losses of crops pollinated by bats. As Turner points out, bats are major pollinators of plantains and avocados and are the sole pollinators of the agave plant; margarita cocktail lovers owe the tequila in their drink to the activities of bats.

Between this and the news that the French wine industry is facing a wipeout from rising temperatures, the future of the booze industry is looking grim.