Going to bat for the bats

Going to bat for the bats
Nathan Culver learns about bats during Bat Week (Meg McKinney)

Halloween brings bats to the forefront, in the form of decorations and the celebration of all things scary. Popular culture has not been so kind to the reputation of bats. Whether it is the vampiric transformations, or just the heebie-jeebies of a flying furry mammal, bats are not found on most “popular animals” lists.

Learning about bats at Boo at the Zoo. (Meg McKinney)

The Birmingham Zoo and other organizations use this time of year to educate about the role bats play in the ecosystem. A large bat-themed exhibit at the 2017 Boo at the Zoo ties into Bat Week, and plays an important role in dispelling myths.

There are probably more bats in your neighborhood than you know, and they perform an important function in keeping insect populations in check by eating enough bugs each year to offset as much of $3 billion in pesticides.

However, in recent years, North American bats have encountered a plague of their own, known as white-nose syndrome. As the disease spreads, killing millions of bats, some are calling it a continent-wide crisis.

“White-nose syndrome is the single biggest threat to many North American bat species and one of the most pressing conservation challenges facing America’s wildlife today,” said Jeremy Coleman, national white-nose syndrome coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Investing in defeating this disease must be a priority, and the Bats for the Future Fund provides an important forum for partnering organizations to engage in these critical efforts.”

Alabama Power’s parent, Southern Company, has officially joined a new stewardship program called the Bats for the Future Fund (BFF). It’s a partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the U.S. Forest Service and corporations to fund research into the causes and prevention of white-nose. According to NFWF, white-nose has killed more than 6 million bats, and has resulted in a complete population wipeout in some areas.

White-nose was first spotted in New York in 2006, but has since spread to 31 states and five Canadian provinces. The fungus that causes white-nose attacks bats as they hibernate, which means several species are already at risk.

This bat was the first in Alabama to be found with white-nose syndrome. (William Stone)

“Southern Company and its subsidiaries have a long history of involvement in environmental and conservation partnerships that benefit imperiled and at-risk species and the habitats they depend on,” said Jeff Burleson, Southern Company environmental and system planning vice president. “These projects will aid efforts to ensure bats carry out their important role in the ecosystem for generations through broad applications where bats are affected by white-nose syndrome.”

The research will focus on disease treatments, and strategies to slow the further spread of white-nose syndrome.

Related Stories