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article imageInternational Bat Week highlights the role bats play in nature

By Karen Graham     Oct 28, 2015 in Environment
Bats may be an essential figure in Halloween scenes, but they are even more essential to humans than most people realize. International Bat Week started on Monday and will go through October 31, Halloween. This year, we are being asked to help our bats.
Bats make up about 25 percent of all mammals on Earth, and with over 1,200 known species worldwide, some populations number in the millions, while other are dangerously low or close to extinction.
Three-fourths of all bats are insectivores, and most bats can devour up to 1,000 mosquitoes an hour. Most of the rest are fruit-eaters while a couple species are fish-eaters. And then we must not forget the vampire bats. These bats engage in hematophagia, meaning they feed on the blood of other animals, sort of like mosquitoes feed on us.
Bats can be found everywhere in the world, with the exception of the Polar regions and extreme desert areas. Because of the wide range of their habitats, bats play a very important role in our ecosystem, making them economically important. Besides eating bothersome insects, they aid in reducing the amount of pesticides we use.
Vampire bats need love  too.
Vampire bats need love, too.
National Geographic Wild
Bats also pollinate flowers and disperse fruit seeds in their excrement. Many tropical plants depend on this method of seed dispersal for their survival. One of Nebraska's District Wildlife Biologists, Gregory Wright says, "Think back to the important services that they (bats) do perform, and if they are a nuisance, kind of weigh the level of nuisance versus the benefits they provide."
This year's International Bat Week's focus
On October 31, the focus of bat week moves from highlighting the role bats play in the ecosystem to something closer to home, bat houses. No one likes a bat flying around the living room or bedroom ceiling but believe it or not, the bat is probably as frightened as the human chasing it with a broom.
Bat House Mounted on Building.
Bat House Mounted on Building.
Mylea Bayless/Bat Conservation International
To distract bats from flying in the front door or setting up housekeeping in the attic, the public is being encouraged to build bat houses. Not only will this help in giving bats a place to call their own, but it will also help in keeping down the spread of disease. The Bat Week website has detailed instructions for building a simple bat house that can be installed on a pole or a building. And don forget, it's a great family project.
Diseases and threats to bats.
Even though conservation efforts are in place to protect bats, it is important that people know that bats can be carriers of the rabies virus, as are prairie dogs and some rodents. But even worse than bats being carriers of disease is the disease that is affecting bat populations in the Eastern United States and Canada, called White nose syndrome.
Little brown bat with white-nose syndrome in Greeley Mine  Vermont  March 26  2009.
Little brown bat with white-nose syndrome in Greeley Mine, Vermont, March 26, 2009.
Marvin Moriarty/USFWS
Digital Journal's Tim Sandle has written extensively about white-nose syndrome, including how the devastating fungal disease that attacks bats during their winter hibernation, may be linked to seasonal disease transmission patterns. In an article this month, Digital Journal reports there may be some good news about the fungal disease because some bats are beginning to show an immune response.
Bat week is an international celebration of the role bats play in our ecosystem. Bat Week is organized by a team of representatives from Bat Conservation International, Organization for Bat Conservation, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wildlife Acoustics, Lubee Bat Conservancy and the Save Lucy Campaign.
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