Bats: the unsung hero of the environment

Fangs, disease and vampires – there are many reasons to fear a bat. But despite popular belief and misconceptions regarding these unique creatures, bats are one of the environment’s most productive and beneficial species out there.

Cindy Myers, a federal agent by day and bat rehabilitator by night, spoke at the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary last Saturday on the benefits that bats bring to our ecosystem. As the only mammal capable of flight and recreating their environment via sound waves, bats are an integral component in our environment.

Myers, a volunteer educator with Project Wildlife since 2002, has appeared all over San Diego County to Riverside County in pursuit of educating Californians of the services bats provide.

Although bats may have a negative stigma in many cultures and are even associated with vampires, there are actually over 900 species of bats with the majority of them being classified as microbats insect-eating and pollinating bats.

“The fact that they’re flying around overhead when it’s dark and people tend to be afraid of the dark and the vampire myths, I think that has really caused a lot of terrible misconceptions about bats,” Myers said.

Bats are a declining species largely because of human interaction, according to Bat Conservation International.

“Summertime bat maternity sites have been attacked by people. If people know where bats are sleeping in the daytime, there have been a few instances of people just attacking bats and killing them for no reason,” Myers said.

Yet this is not the only environmental hazard bats face.

“In the northeastern U.S., there’s an unintended experiment going on in the forests there because they’ve lost so many of their bats to white-nose syndrome, so forest ecologists are really not even sure what impact that’s going to have on the health of the forests,” Myers said.

Myers presses the idea that if bats cease to exist in our ecosystem there would be severe repercussions that would impact the environment tremendously.

“If we had never had any bats in the world, we would not have bananas, avocados or peaches. Most of the nuts in your bag of trail mix would not be in there because most of those nuts – either the plants are pollinated by bats or the seeds are dispersed by bats,” Myers said.

She also affirms that bats are capable of catching up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects per hour, which makes them a vital pest-control agent.

The Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary has been an avid bat supporter, hosting an annual Bat Night over the past few years.

“Bats have always been a really popular topic for our visitors, and obviously we had a good turnout today. (Myers) talked in the beginning about how people are afraid of them, so dispelling some of those myths so that people learn more about them and how to act when they find one,” said Marcella Gilchrist, the site manager at the sanctuary.

Gilchrist restored the sanctuary and knows the significance that the environment plays in the species’ survival.

“I’ve been here almost 12 years and we did a lot of habitat restoration when I got here…going section by section through the ground and pulling out the non-natives and replacing them with native plants that provide resources, shelter and food for the native animals that belong here,” Gilchrist said.

Habitat destruction is a difficult challenge bats face, but Gilchrist said she does her part to ensure they have a pristine home at the sanctuary.

“Everything that should be here is here, and that’s the true test of a habitat restoration,” Gilchrist said.

While it may seem arduous to aide the conservation of bats, there are easy ways to help too. David Dainko, 10, learned vital information from the presentation.

“A good tip to learn is to never touch a bat that’s on the ground sick or injured … always call an animal reservation or rehabilitator,” Dainko said.

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