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The Powerful Force of Bats LOOKING BEYOND COVID-19

BATS’ ROLE IN ECOLOGY, RESEARCH, CONSERVATION. AND WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR LOCAL COLONY

Photo Essay By Paulina Oswald

Bats have a substantial impact on our environment. But with the onset of COVID-19, they may be getting a bad rap extending beyond Draculin imagery. According to experts however, it is not the bats that are to be blamed for the spread of coronavirus, but the exploitation of wildlife. In fact, the conservation of bats is critical for protecting our ecosystems as they fill vital roles as pollinators, pest control, and a ready food supply for their predators. Bat research has also led to valuable information for immunology research. There are ways individuals can get involved with the conservation of our leathery friends that will help improve local ecosystems.

October 12, 2020 in Gainesville, FL--The University of Florida Bat Houses and Bat Barn are the world’s largest occupied Bat Houses. The colony is a vital part of the local ecosystem.
The smell of bananas wafts from the nearby garden as the low hum of bats readying themselves to fly increases from the Bat Houses and Barn. Over Lake Alice, the University of Florida’s drum corps can be heard intermingling with the bats’ chatter. As they fly, the bats eat insects and leave droppings that both serve as valuable fertilizer and seed dispersal to the area, according to the Florida Museum Bat House. Bats play a vital role in pollination and seed dispersal to more than 3,000 species of plants, says Bat Conservation International.
The lower interior of the one of the Bat Houses has an open bottom that the bats emerge from each night.
A worker reconstructs a Bat House. An overpopulation of bats in one of the Bat Houses caused a collapse in 2017. Photo credit: Jeff Gage, Gainesville, FL.
Taken in 2019. After sunset, bats can be seen flying between the wire spaces to get out of the underside of the Bat House. Photo credit: Jeff Gage.
October 2011. A video is taken of the inside of the Bat House when the bats are rising from roosting and beginning to fly. Photo credit: Florida Museum.
October 2, 2020--Bats begin to pour out of the Bat Houses on the University of Florida’s campus. The COVID-19 virus has left some of the public with feelings of trepidation about bats, particularly if they are capable of spreading the virus and if the bat population should be culled as a result. Experts at Bat Conservation International state that the exploitation of wildlife increases pathogens, and the bats themselves are not responsible for infection when they are left alone.
In 2019, a local murder of crows visited the Bat House to hunt. Bats support upper level predators in their ecosystems: snakes, racoons, and predatory birds. These predation patterns are natural; the biggest threats to bats are climate change, White-Nose syndrome, “industrial activities, habitat loss, and a maligned misunderstanding of their vital roles in our ecosystems.” Photo credit: Jeff Gage.
October 12, 2020--A rush of wind is felt as the bats begin their nightly flight for insects at the University of Florida’s Bat Barns and Bat House.
Bats flood the sky as they leave the University of Florida’s Bat Barns and Bat House on October 2, 2020. The bats travel in a long stream to eat insects at sunset. This colony is estimated to eat 2.5 billion insects nightly.
Bats join a collective cloud to travel over Lake Alice on September 22, 2020. Bats gather en masse to engage in social foraging which may cause them to experience sensory interference if their concentrations become too high. However, social foraging helps the bats catch more prey as a group than if they were hunting individually. They use nearby bats’ echolocation signals to better understand the exact locations of their prey, which is primarily small insects.
October 12, 2020. People gather nightly to watch the bats fly out. There are ways individuals and communities can help protect bats. These include building bat houses, planting night gardens, participating in local bat counts and acoustic surveys, and making sure not to disturb them during hibernation season (it is around October through March depending on the species). You can also find out how to prevent the spread of White-Nose syndrome here.
A solitary woman watches the bats.
The bat cloud curves away from the Bat Houses to the lake as darkness descends.

As food supply and economies are experiencing disruptions and strain during the pandemic, bat conservation becomes more important as bats help maintain ecological balance by contributing to seed dispersal and pest control. They are also a source for research scientists' data about the spread of pathogens through environmental exploitation. Because bats have strong immunity against disease, they may help us better understand immunity in humans. By protecting bats, we protect our environment and the balance of our ecosystems.

Created By
Paulina Oswald
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Credits:

Paulina Oswald and Jeff Gage