They’re everywhere this time of year: pumpkins carved with crooked smiles, illuminating the evening from seemingly every porch or window on your street.
While the jack-o-lantern is probably the enduring symbol of the Halloween, a close second may be the black silhouette of a flying bat.
Don’t believe me? Go ahead, do a quick Google search of images using the word “Halloween.” I’ll wait.
What did I tell you?
Halloween and other scary stuff aside, the fact that bats come out at night isn’t nearly as scary—or as sad—as what’s happening to them every day.
If you haven’t heard yet, there's a devastating disease called White-nose syndrome killing our bats.
Far from scary Halloween caricatures, bats make great neighbors. In addition to being super cute, they're critical to healthy ecosystems.
For starters, bats are great for controlling insect populations naturally, without the need for pesticides. A single bat can eat 1,200 insects in an hour! Some kinds of bats also assist in the pollination of plants, including many of your favorite fruits like bananas, mangoes and peaches.
So what is White-nose syndrome?
White-nose syndrome is a disease that affects hibernating bats. A caver first photographed it in 2006. The following winter, the bats were behaving erratically. In 2007, a few hundred dead bats drew the attention of biologists and the case was documented.
Very recently, scientists have identified a new-to-science fungus, Geomyces destructans that causes the disease.
Since 2006, White-nose syndrome has grown into an epidemic that isn’t showing signs of slowing down. White-nose syndrome or the fungus are already found in 19 states and four Canadian provinces, and it’s on track to affect even more bats this year.
Sadly, it’s even threatening the extinction of some bat species. In some hibernacula (the place where an animal chooses to hibernate), the mortality rate is as high as 90-100%. Because all bat populations weren’t being counted yearly, it’s hard to know exactly how many bats have died from the disease, but the best guess is well over one million in five years.
You should know that the disease won’t harm you, your pets, or other animals. Our bodies are too warm for the fungus to grow. It can’t live about 70 F. Bats are vulnerable during hibernation because their body temperatures drop to 50 F.
While many groups, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, are involved in trying to find the source and stop the spread of the fungus, there is no known cure.
Now that’s a scary Halloween story.
So, after all the Halloween decorations are put a way for another year, we hope you remember to be thankful for our bats as they struggle with this terrifying disease.
While we work to find a cure, here are simple ways you support overall bat health:
-Put up a bat house at your house to provide safe habitat for bats in your neighborhood. Bat Conservation International has plans to build your own, and directions for where to put them and how to attract bats. They also sell fully assembled bat houses.
-Take notes of the bats in your area and report your findings to a local wildlife agency. Be on the lookout for any new bat colonies or odd activity — such as bats flying in the day or roosting in sunlight on the outside of structures during the winter.
- Cave explorers should check with their state conservation agency before entering any cave or mine, and they should follow the protocols recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decontaminate clothing, footwear and equipment used in caves and mines.