Merlin’s Opinion Letter, “Fear of Bats and its Consequences,” published in the Journal of Bat Research and Conservation,traces back how public health exaggerations have dramatically impacted bat conservation from the 1970’s through today. This is a thoroughly documented report on how exaggerated disease claims against bats have harmed bats and efforts to conserve them over the past 47 years—something all who care about bats should know.
Insect-eating bats save farmers approximately $23 billion in annual agricultural losses in the United States alone. Millions of free-tailed bats from Bracken Cave, Texas eat more than 100 tons of insects nightly, intercepting billions of migrant pests before they can lay eggs, a huge savings to farmers.
Merlin has been responding with thoroughly documented reports on how exaggerated disease claims against bats have harmed bats and efforts to conserve them over the past 47 years—something all who care about bats should know. Please use these resources and citations to share the truth about bats.
Millions of tourists have watched free-tailed bat emergences from the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas over the past 35 years without anyone ever having been harmed. Signs warn visitors not to handle the bats.
Wrong approaches in defense of bats can be even worse than not defending them at all. As experience has shown, despite good intentions, nothing can threaten bats more than fear.
Ever since I first introduced the idea of attracting bats to American yards in 1982, one of the most frequently asked questions has been, “Where can I purchase a good bat house?” The next, of course, is “How do I know bats will come?”
There is now unequivocal evidence that climate change and associated weather extremes are accelerating at unprecedented rates due to human activities. At the UN Climate Summit in December 2018, Sir David Attenborough warned that “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”
Nearly 1,400 kinds of bats account for a fifth of all mammal species, ranging from tiny bumblebee bats, weighing less than a U.S. penny to giant flying foxes with nearly six-foot wingspans.
Bats are primary predators of the vast numbers of insects that fly at night, and some species consume large numbers of mosquitoes when they are available. However, mosquito control is a complex problem that rarely can be solved by a single approach, be it bat houses or pesticides.
The largest losses of cave-dwelling bats often occur prior to a cave’s discovery by cavers or bat biologists. When looking for bat roosts we simply ask about caves where bats currently live. And too often, those we discover are locations of last resort for bats that have been forced to abandon preferred sites. This presents major problems. The bats we see may be barely surviving in marginal conditions, misunderstood to be good or even ideal. Failure to recognize true needs can lead to disastrous conservation decisions.
Read Merlin’s article, Give Bats a Break, in the Spring 2017 edition of Issues in Science and Technology. This report is based on Merlin’s review of thousands of scientific papers and popular media stories. And it is the first to expose how sensational speculation is fostering bad science in a self-perpetuating cycle of misdirected public health funding that threatens the future of bats. This is an issue that we cannot ignore.
“I learned to photograph bats as an act of desperation. If efforts to conserve bats were to succeed, people needed to see them as they naturally are–gentle, inquisitive, even beautiful.” -Merlin Tuttle Pictured is Merlin preparing to photograph newly tamed spectral bat (Vampyrum spectrum). This gentle and intelligent carnivorous species is one of Merlin’s favorites.
Imagine what life would be like if you could find a job that was as much fun as the things you dream about doing on vacation. Not just having fun, but also doing things that would make you proud. Believe it or not that is possible!
Merlin Tuttle was hired to co-direct the project for the first two years. He arrived in Venezuela with his field team at a time of extreme unrest. Communist insurgents were robbing banks, engaging in gun battles at the national university and killing police in downtown Caracas. Merlin was captured by communist guerillas. One of his first jungle camps was nearly bombed and strafed by Venezuelan marines. And his expedition to the remotest frontier areas had to survive record-breaking floods, an attack from river bandits, and threats from hostile Yanomamö.
Beyond his wild adventures, these two years of fieldwork in Venezuela had enormous impact on Merlin’s understanding of bat needs and values, helping to create the bat conservationist he is today.
There are two kinds of problems associated with bats in buildings. The sudden appearance of a lost individual in one’s home or office versus a colony of bats in a wall or attic that causes no immediate problem, but may eventually grow to cause a nuisance, normally limited to odor or noise.
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is caused by a fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans). It has spread rapidly across North America since it apparently arrived from Europe in 2006, and it has killed millions of bats. However, because infected bats can quickly travel long distances, even the best efforts of wildlife managers, biologists, and cavers have failed to prevent its spread from coast to coast.
At a time when WNS is forcing increased arousals and high mortality due to premature exhaustion of limited fat reserves, every possible precaution must be taken to minimize disturbance and restore the best possible hibernation conditions.
Colonial bats can harbor ectoparasites, from bat flies to mites, fleas, and even bed bugs. The good news is that most bat parasites are highly host-specific. Unless they’re starving, they much prefer to remain with their bat hosts. It may also be reassuring to know that disease transmission from bat parasites to humans is exceedingly rare, if it occurs at all. In fact, in a lifetime of studying bats, I’ve never heard of it.