Summer and warm weather are at hand, and with the heat season come the mosquitoes. These pesky insects, which leave behind itchy bites and occasionally transmit disease, are as good a reason as any to support a new bat census.
Wildlife biologists with the Pennsylvania Game Commission in Pennsylvania are looking for volunteers to help count Appalachian bats. The census will help them assess the damage a fatal disease called White-Nose Syndrome has inflicted on bat populations in northeastern and central states. Millions of bats have died from this little-understood ailment.
Everyone from individuals to Scout groups, 4-H clubs, and environmental organizations can take part in the count of Pennsylvania’s two most common bat species, the little brown bat and the big brown bat. Most female bats use buildings as nurseries where they raise their young during the summer.
Few people understand, or even care, what an important role bats play in our ecosystem. But without hundreds of thousands of bats on the wing every night, millions more mosquitoes would plague us human beings. One bat can consume up to 500 mosquitoes and other insects in a single evening. That’s wonderfully effective, nontoxic pest control, something we all should value in wet weather, perfect breeding conditions for mosquitoes.
Remember, bats’ appetites also help control the West Nile Virus, which mosquitoes carry, and the diseases it causes.
Unfortunately, White-Nose Syndrome has killed hundreds of thousands of bats across the northeastern United States. The little-understood fungus thrives in the kind of cold, wet caves and abandoned mines where bats congregate and hibernate, and has a 90-percent fatality rate.
Scientists have been studying the syndrome for several years, seeking its causes and trying to develop controls or at least slow its fatal march. Vollunteers will help them determine how many bats survive.
Get over thinking of bats as just creepy, uninvited home invaders or characters in horror fiction. Remember that without them, millions more mosquitoes and other small insects would ply the night skies.
Please consider counting these small, homely but valuable creatures before they pass into little more than legend.