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Disease taking toll on Ohio bat population

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    A brown bat can eat around 1,000 mosquitos per hour when healthy.

    ODNR PHOTO

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    Brown bats congregate in the corner of an attic.

    ODNR PHOTO

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    Brown bats suffering from white-nose syndrome cluster together in a cave. Bats' close proximity is the main culprit in the spread of the disease.

    ODNR PHOTO

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It’s been a tough summer when it comes to the mosquito and insect population.

Sitting outside and getting bitten comes with the territory of a Midwestern summer. However, in the past few years the bugs have seemingly gotten worse as more and more people are waking up with bites after a night of sitting on their patios.

While many point to climate change and warmer winters as the cause for an increasing insect population, they may not be wrong. However, there in one certain thing causing this bug population boom — the drastic decline in bats across the Midwest, especially here in Northeast Ohio.

What does bat population have to do with mosquito and bug bites? A single brown bat can eat around 1,000 mosquitoes per hour. Couple that with a night of feeding, you’re looking at one bat consuming 5,000 to 6,000 mosquitoes. Couple that with a family of bats, there won’t be many mosquitoes left to bother you.

The culprit in this drastic decline of bats is a disease called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) It’s spread through a fungus and the disease cultivates best in caves with temperatures around the mid-to-upper 50s. That setting happens to be the ideal bat habitat.

WNS happens as the fungi are transferred into the caves via clothing. There have been no reported adverse effects of this fungus to humans, however venturing into caves around here is not recommended. In fact, some areas of parks have closed caves to human foot traffic in an attempt to curtail the spread of WNS to bats. Clothes need to be decontaminated and washed in temperatures around 120 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the fungi from spreading to other caves.

When bats hibernate in these caves, they pack in very close to one another. Their proximity causes the disease to spread from one bat to another.

If carrying the disease, a bat will exhibit a white nose, which is where the disease’s name originates. WNS causes bats to wake up and fly during a period where they should be hibernating. Their metabolism increases, they use up their fat stores and eventually starve to death. The mortality rate in some of the caves where WNS is found is close to 100 percent.

Ohio has 13 different species of bats all of which provide a vital role in our ecosystem. In addition to preventing us from getting bitten all evening by mosquitoes and other flying insects, a reduction in these insects can affect crops and pesticides used to protect them.

With this decrease in bat population, there have been more initiatives to put up bat houses across the area. These houses should be up before April and perform best when located 12-to-15 feet above the ground in an east facing direction. The limitation of afternoon sun is the reason for this placement and will increase the likelihood of usage. Black or brown are the best colors as these increase the absorption of solar radiation.

There’s no guarantee a bat house will attract bats, but any likelihood of these bats in your backyard will absolutely lead to needing less bug spray and fewer insect bites.

These mammals are as mysterious as it gets to most of us. With their nocturnal habits, much of our knowledge of them begins and ends with a DC Comics superhero.

Bats play a vital role in our ecosystems here and seeing a healthy return of them would do us well.

Contact Brad Zahar at bzaharoutdoors@gmail.com.
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