March 25th, 2008 | Uncategorized

I’m freaked out about the bats. Been hearing for a while about this white-nose syndrome that’s killing them in their hibernacula (is that a great word or what?) in Vermont and upstate NY, but now it’s on the front page of the Times.

As with the bee situation, the ecological implications are dire. But oddly, what gets me most is the thought that my personal bat friend is probably dead or dying right now. In case you missed it, here’s a video of him eating moths in my window last summer.

This sentimental anthropomorphism on my part reminds me of David Sedaris’s piece in the 3/24 New Yorker about the spider he adopted. I can’t link to it because annoyingly, or cleverly, that’s one of the pieces they’ve chosen to withhold on their website.

74 Responses to “bats”

  1. Anonymous says:

    It is troubling that the article says scientists don’t know why they are dying. Some folks who are scared of bats, like the bees, might be feeling really happy, just like when Bush decided to give us all some cash, but in the long run, trouble is brewing…

  2. The Cat Pimp says:

    I went to a lecture by an entomologist out of UC Berkeley. It was about native bees. On the topic of honeybees, the entomologists have some solid theories about the crash. Bees are kept in moveable hives and trucked all over to pollinate orchards. The move stresses them, the monocultural diet stresses them and the sugarwater they get off-season stresses them. Interestingly enough, urban honeybees are just fine. BTW – the bees that are crashing are non-native European bees. Native bees have their own problems. (For example, mulch keeps ground based bees from nesting. Pesticides and herbicides and over-reliance on lawn grass harms them, too.)

    I’m thinking the fungus is a result of human movement as well as global warming. I wonder if there’s some way to inoculate bat caves against it. Golden mantella frogs in the tropics are threatened by fungus as well.

  3. KarenE says:

    Bechdel’s Bat Buffet!

  4. --MC says:

    That was one of the better Sedaris pieces in a long time. I like his description of how his father used to save spiders and bugs, and I paraphrase: “He never would squash anything that wasn’t directly related to him.”

  5. Jessica says:

    I’m an entomologist and I can tell you that several studies have shown that there are over 100 different chemicals in bee hives that are not directly applied by keepers. These come from bees visiting plants that homeowners have sprayed, from crops that farmers have sprayed and from highway plants that the city/town sprays. All of these chemicals are likely to contribute to CCD. So is the lack of multiple matings, which is highly common in honey bees in general, but in bees used for crop pollination queens are allowed to mate with only one male 🙁 which affects their behavior, reducing foraging capacity and their ability to do the waggle dance. And it makes me not want to eat honey, because all of those chemicals are found in the honey too! And in many orders of magnitude higher quantities than that which would be allowed if a keeper were spraying near their hives.

  6. Maggie Jochild says:

    I’m freaking about the bats, too, Alison. Austin has a massive urban population of them (over a million under the Ann Richards Avenue Bridge), many more tens of millions in the limestone caves surrounding us, and at least one living in the space near the rain gutter right outside my apartment patio. They are gentle, immensely useful creatures, good mothers and existing in an alternate universe of echolocation. In at least one sci-fi book I read, the collapse of bat colonies around the world led to the collapse of agriculture. Yeah, they’re that important.

  7. smutti says:

    Silly bat. Doesn’t he/she/it know,,, the real yummy moth is in the wings.

  8. iara says:

    I hope your local hibernaculum (hey, my spell checker does not know this word!) is spared and that your bat friend emerges safe and sound in the Summer for some more night action at your window – the video is really amazing!
    But the NYT article is very sobering…

    David Sedaris’ obsessions are a lot of fun – “April in Paris” indeed!

  9. Chris says:

    ~ 7 billion cheers for sentimental anthropomorphism. (what’s the human population up to, again?) I think if it wasn’t for the family of Chipping Sparrows I saw fall to cowbird attack, or the baby robin that died after its parent fed it a caterpillar from our neighbors’ perfect-looking, pesticided garden, I wouldn’t be the annoying ecowhiner I am today. It hits home when it hits you. RIP poor Adirondack bats, and may we work out what the hell happened and how to stop it before it has a chance to happen any more.

  10. L.A. Steve says:

    Who knew that two of the first horsemen of the Apocalypse would be bees and bats?

  11. The Cat Pimp says:

    Thanks, Jessica, for the information about the chemicals getting back into the hives.

    I wish people would learn that a yard doesn’t have to look like a golf course.

  12. Ian says:

    The organic gardening (and I don’t mean fruit n’ veg) bug has become very popular in Britain thanks to the success of gardening programmes and their presenters being pretty much uniformly organic gardeners.

    In the supermarkets you can buy ladybird (ladybug), bee, butterfly, etc homes. Books encourage people to grow insect-friendly flowers and plants and keep piles of sticks and logs in their back garden to give insects homes.

    Recently there was a TV programme that visited the USA and showed lawn after perfect lawn after perfect lawn, row after row after row. Don’t you do plants and flowers? No self-respecting British garden would be without a 4 foot border stuffed with plants and flowers as well as a lawn. Which provides variety for the insects and the colours are wonderful. Still weaning folk off pesticides, unfortunately.

    I’m a total evangelist on this one, having just got my own allotment (community garden plot).

  13. andrewo says:

    I strongly recommend the organization Bat Conservation International. They do valuable work all over the world. And a memberships gets you their cool magazine, too.

  14. Minnie says:

    Wow, thanks for the heads-up. I am so sorry to hear about this.

    And andrewo, thank you for the Bat Conservation International website. How vital, interesting, and cute they are! I was dismayed to read that they give birth to one pup a year. I fancied they’d breed several litters a year, like squirrels, but then nursing while hanging upside down by one’s toes can’t be a breeze.

    Random thought: how healthy can it be for bats to chow down on skeeters carrying West Nile Virus?

    My heart aches to hear about this massive bat die-off, but I remember that we’re here like a sparkling moment of foam on a vast ocean, and I have hope that creation will continue in some form. Maybe those little hotspot creatures thriving at underwater vents will rise to prominence?

    Alison, thank you for loving that bat and for opening our eyes and hearts.

  15. Ginjoint says:

    This is heartbreaking, and the thought that it could possibly be spread by human interaction makes it even worse.

    One bright spot in the article? The name “Merlin Tuttle.” Awesome.

  16. Lisa (Calico) says:

    I know – Frosted Fruitbats, this is sad.
    A little girl was bitten in Burlington several weeks ago – she saw a bat in a parking lot and touched it, and it bit her. I thought to myself, “oh, not good-he/she should have been hibernating” – soon thereafter I read about the white nose fungus.
    Here’s a couple of cool links-I love bats too, and I call our large pomeranian pooch my “Flying Fox”:
    I saw one of the “Bat Mums” on a doco several years ago-the Aussie bats/flying foxes are HUGE!

  17. Lisa (Calico) says:

    So sorry, Andrew, I did not see your link to Bat Con.
    As with the Comics Curmudgeon site, sometimes I don’t read far back enough before posting.
    Oh Bats! : )

  18. bean says:

    interesting that you have to read about 3/4 of the way through what is actually a pretty lengthy article before any mention of a theory connecting the disease to the pesticides used to “control” the west nile virus. chickens roosting, blah blah.

    i remember the nuclear angst that invaded all our dreams in the eighties. now it seems to be this environmental angst. as a recent transplant from new york to vermont, it seems extremely acute. here in vermont, we can easily compost our kitchen scraps, and every other car is a hybrid. in new york, it’s very difficult to think about things like that. composting is throwing your banana peel on the sidewalk instead of sending it to the land fill in a plastic bag, and hoping you don’t get a ticket. that, or shlepping your smelly kitchen scraps from washington heights to union square once a week…so nobody bothers because they are all too busy trying to survive, or they’ve figured out that all this personal recycling, veganism and angsting is just distracting us from the reality that it is our governments and our industries and our militaries that are destroying the planet. not us.

    yes, i compost, and no, i don’t drink coke. but i’m not so sure it matters to the bats.

  19. DW says:

    Hibernacula IS a great word and is a three sylable rhyme with Dracula although there is no etymological relationship.
    And of course what really creeps us out about this decimation of bees and bats is that in the denial part of our consciousness is the suspicion that the next highly organized, densely living together species ripe for random near extinction is us. Bees and bats, after they are nearly wiped out, will resume their ways. Humans will not be resuming their ways for millenia.

  20. Lizzie from London says:

    Thank you for the bat movie. Am reminded of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland: (from What the Thunder Said)

    “A woman drew her long black hair out tight
    And fiddled whisper music on those strings
    And bats with baby faces in the violet light
    Whistled and beat their wings
    And crawled head downwards down a blackened wall.”

    Only Alison hasn’t got long hair…

    I’m appalled at bee populations dropping too. Don’t know what the situation is here in UK. I have a lavender bush in my garden which is visited in summer by at least four different types of bees. I love them and it feels eminently reasonable to talk to them.

    You are right Minnie – creation will continue – and let’s hope it’s better and more beneficent for the planet than some of homo sapiens (name seems pretty ironic now) have been. Meanwhile, we can only care for our own little patches. No chemicals in my backyard.

  21. AnnaP says:

    I recently read an article from Polish source, that there has been mass deaths of bees in Eastern Europe in places they have been in contact with genetically manipulated crops.
    That might be one reason why this kimd of thing happens.
    And aren`t bats basically insect eaters?

  22. The Cat Pimp says:

    Interestingly enough it is one species of bee out of the many species that is the one we are familiar with – apis mellifera. We’re very dependent on this animal.

  23. Jessica says:

    Yes, how true about our dependence on the bee ‘Apis’!! Although there are a few folks who do research on “native pollinators” and they show that in heterogeneous crop systems, like ones where crops are bordered by trees, meadows or hedge rows, native pollinators are also present and able to pollinate the entire crop without help from Apis at all (although I think this research has only been done so far with watermelon crops). In homogeneous landscapes, like in Southern NJ or in California there are almost no native pollinators present in the crop systems and thus they contribute very little. It seems like native pollinators are taken for granted, and probably won’t have much habitat left if we keep going towards homogeneous crop systems. It’s doubtful that will change anytime soon, which is a bummer, entomologically speaking. 🙁

  24. DeLandDeLakes says:

    Poor little batties. 🙁 I used to love to watch them when I lived in Kansas City- you don’t see them too often up North.

  25. geogeek says:

    DeLandDeLakes –

    I grew up in Minnesota, and we would usually see them in the summer right on the bluffs of the river. I don’t know if they live elsewhere up that-a-way.

  26. The Cat Pimp says:

    Regarding New York City – the lack of curbside recycling is Bloomberg’s doing. I don’t know what scavenger company has him in their pocket, but NYC would be the best collection point in the world for all sorts of recycling. They have the infrastructure in place within the city – they need to hook in as a supplier outside the city.

    All that restaurant grease would be AMAZING biofuel. The paper, the aluminum, the steel… all going to waste and is getting put in a sealed landfill in PA. Tragic.

  27. ES says:

    Two observations, one about NYC recycling — it’s not all it could be but we DO have residential recycling, for paper and for metals and some plastics. At one point they were scaling back due to narrow definitions of cost-effectiveness but the program is pretty well-established now.

    The other is to do with another [fungal?] disease, this one threatening to wipe out Tasmanian devils. The real species on which that Bugs Bunny ‘Taz’ is based. I’d heard about it shortly before the bat story, and it also has to do with something white growing on their faces…. but it’s a gruesome syndrome, the white stuff quickly chokes them.

    Has anyone else heard about this? Any sense of its possible relation to anything else we’re discussing? Apparently it’s also cropped up recently there in Australia.

  28. bronislava says:

    hey ES, i’m not sure that the tassie devils stuff has anything to do with bats dying.

    except that both are sad 🙁

  29. Aunt Soozie says:

    This is overwhelming and sad. But it’s so wonderful that the readers of this blog have such a wealth of knowledge… I’m happy to be informed about what we can do locally and globally to help abate situations like this one. I already have an “unlawn”… and I’m willing to brag about it. Though, I confess, it’s not exactly by design but by default.

  30. bongobunny says:

    Alison, I already thought you were the cat’s pajamas, but now I’m even more smitten! Not too many people think bats are cute or care about their plight. I’ve been trying to convince people that bats are our buddies for years.

    BTW, I would pee my pants with joy if I had a little bat friend hanging out on my screen.

  31. Janet Hurley says:

    Me too, Alison! Very distressing about the bats. It is like the mysterious huge die-offs of eared Grebes that we get on the Great Salt Lake every several years, though worse because bats have such an important insect controlling role. And the bees and the frogs …. Terrible!

    I have two Chihuahua mixes from the pound named after bat genuses (Myotis and Pipistrelles). I am quite fond of bats. I checked into the pesticides that are used for mosquito control wondering if increased use since West Nile Virus showed up could be a factor. It seems not, but who knows at this point. The CDC is involved in trying to figure it our as is Bat Conservation International. If you haven’t ever visited the BCI website, do — it has always been among my favorite websites — always very well put together:

    Hey, the 10:00 evening news is on here and you are on it!!

    Here’s the link:

    Some dumn ass calling Fun Home pornographic and trying to get it banned from the English class reading list here at the University of Utah (where I work). Thankfully the Univeristy is having none of it. They say he can read something else in place of it if he wants to, end of story. Guy is trying to get help from this organization that got a Gold’s Gym in Provo (Mo-land central, meaning Mormon epicenter) to stop playing “pornographic” music videos. Anyway great to see such good coverage of your work on my local news here in Salt Lake City.

  32. Hey, Janet. Thanks for the heads up on the U of Utah thing. Sorry your comment disappeared–for some reason it went to “awaiting moderation.” First I thought it was because it had links in it, but other comments with links have been going up okay. Now I suspect it’s that it included the word “pornographic.”

    Pornographic indeed. I’ll show the U of U pornographic.

    Anyhow. Thanks for all the news.

  33. Katie says:

    The video is precious, but it’s a toss-up for me who’s cuter: the bat, or you.

  34. Pam I says:

    I found my first bee of the year last week and as it looked a bit doozy, I fed it some honey. This did wonders for it, and meanwhile I was able to sit with my nose three inches away watching it feed, little pink proboscis and all. So I made photos, see
    Hope it escapes all the bee bugs and nasty neighbours’ sprays.

  35. Pam I says:

    Um, that’s the bee’s proboscis I’m talking about, not mine. Blogging is so bad for grammar.

  36. Ellen O. says:

    It seems that pesticides from Mexico, South America, and Central America are hurting song birds.

    Another reason to eat organically and locally (or from within the U.S. and Canada at least.) A point for Stuart.

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