© Thomas Kunz, Boston University
Texas happens to be the battiest state in the USA, home to 32 of the nation’s 47 bat species. In a state where everything’s said to be bigger, not only do we have the most kinds of bats, we also boast the world’s largest known bat colony, Bracken Cave Preserve near San Antonio, and the planet’s largest urban bat colony, Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin. Visitors from around the world flock to Texas to see the winged mammals at close to a dozen bat-viewing locations. Fortunately, public fears of bats as scary vampires, bats flying into people’s hair, and other unfounded phobias fostered by Hollywood have largely abated in recent decades, thanks to persistent public education work by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Bat Conservation International and many others. The upshot today is more and more Texans are realizing how cool bats are, and how valuable they are for crop pollination, insect control and eco-tourism.
To cite one example, university research has shown that bat insect control is worth $1.4 billion annually for agriculture in Texas alone. This value includes reduced crop loss to insect pests, reduced spread of crop diseases, and reduced need for pesticides.
Bat benefits have broad impact, since they are often “keystone species” that are essential to some ecosystems. Without bats’ pollination and seed-dispersing services, local ecosystems could collapse as plants fail to provide food and cover for wildlife species near the base of the food chain.
Yet bats, like more than 1,300 other species of concern in Texas, need our help. Their karst cave habitats are threatened, and some bat populations are declining. White-nose Syndrome (WNS) is a fungal disease that rouses bats from hibernation, causing them to consume their winter fat stores and starve to death. The fungus was detected for the first time in Texas in early 2017 in the Panhandle, and by early 2018 it spread into Central Texas. No bats have died yet in Texas, but the syndrome has killed millions of bats in North America since it was first discovered in 2007.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide invaluable new funding and resources to help boost bat conservation, education and related eco-tourism.
© J. Scott Altenbach, University of New Mexico - Mexican (Brazilian) Free-tailed Bat
Bat emergence at Bracken Cave, By Rachel Rommel