The Positive Impact of Bats on Humans #WingedWednesdays

Though you may not think about it, bats worldwide have significant positive impacts on our everyday lives.  

The first and most obvious one is by controlling the insect populations right here in Ontario and in your backyard. Now you are probably thinking “Yes, they reduce mosquitoes and that’s great- but is that all?” 

The short answer to this is no- this isn’t all by a long shot. 

Bats as Pest Control 

Focusing on just mosquitoes alone, the most minor impact that local bats will have will be you needing to swat at these insects less. 

One little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) for example has the ability to catch up to 1000 insects in a single night, with nursing females, that require more energy, catching up to 4000 insects per night (4).  

If one quarter (250) of those insects are mosquitoes and there is a colony of 100 little brown bats in the area they could eat potentially 25,000 mosquitoes in a single evening. That ends up being 750,000 mosquitoes in a single month, from one small colony of local bats.  

That alone is a huge decrease of mosquitoes who could be carrying disease such as West Nile Virus- which can affect humans, livestock and other wildlife (6).  

It’s not just human health that the consumption of all these insects is helping either! 

Bat insect consumption includes a wide variety of other agricultural pests. In the United States alone, it is estimated that bats save farmers a range of $3.7 Billion to $54 Billion (1)(7) . This is due to the reduction of pests, which if left alone reduce crop health and yields. Less insects also means a reduction in pesticide use. This reduction of pesticide use lowers environmental damage and possible human health side effects.  Some of our crops that benefit positively affected from by this pest reduction are beans, coffee, sugarcane, corn and rice (1).  

There is such a range in savings because the initial $3.7 Billion savings could be even higher than initially predicted if you account for less direct benefits done by bats. For example, in forests there would be a reduction of tree damage by insect pests, which would increase lumber yields when harvested (7). Nor do these calculations take into consideration the work bats do for pollination in the wild, for crops and for ecosystem regeneration (7). 

Bats as Pollinators 

Although focused further to the south in the United States, bats are important pollinators to many of the foods that we eat. These bats are nectar eating bats and they pollinate a wide variety of fruits and seeds. Just like butterflies and bees the pollinating bats travel from flower to flower in search of nectar that they drink. While feeding on these plants they pick up pollen on their fur which is then transferred to the next flower they visit. Worldwide, bats pollinate over 700 plants both in the wild and in our agricultural crops (1). Some of these include bananas, avocados, peaches, mangos, and agave (1) (2). 

There are also bats that consume fruit, called fruit bats. These bats are extremely important for rainforest regeneration, fruit plant genetic diversity (which effects the overall health and abundance of these fruit plants) and therefore the stability of many levels of rainforest ecosystems.  

Because fruit bats will eat fruit in one area and then leave the area once finished by flight, the seeds that are spread in their droppings (called guano) can move huge distances away from the parent plant. This helps not only the seeds grow due to lack of competition from the same plant species, but also through the rich fertilizer that bat droppings are known for (they provide a wide range of nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, and sulfur- all of which are highly helpful for plant growth) (6)(5).  

Through seed dispersal, fruit bats can provide as much as 95% of early growth in recently cleared sections of rainforests (2). One scientific estimate even says that 12-80 bat dispersed seeds per year are found in a single square meter of rainforest (1). Talk about having a green thumb! 

Bats are an Integral Part of Ecosystems 

Plus, it’s not just fruit bats that provide important nutrients through their guano. All bat guano, even our native insectivore bats here in Ontario, provide this important function. One such area is in caves that bats may live in year-round or (like some of our species here in Ontario) hibernate in over the winter.  

Caves are complex and large ones have entire ecosystems inside of them. The most unique part about cave systems is that they rely on nutrients brought in either by wind, water or by animals such as bats (3). Bat guano is an important source of nutrients from the outside for all cave life, allowing specialized animals, low-light plants, insects and fungi to live (3).  

More indirectly, bats have more potential to help humans too. 

Learning from Bat Physiology 

They can be a source of inspiration due to their unique physiological features for example their echolocation and their wing and body shape. Both these have influenced advances in technology including drone design, sonar systems and more (3). 

Even traditionally ostracised bats such as vampire bats have helped people. Scientists were able to isolate the anti-coagulant in vampire bat saliva and create a drug called ‘Draculin’ that is used successfully to help stroke patients (1). There is further research being done on certain bats’ ability to handle types of disease such as malaria parasites, to continue to protect human health (1). 

There are just so many things that bats do to help us. Interested in learning more about bats here in Ontario and around the world? Be sure to continue to check out our blog posts here every #WingedWednesday! 

By: Krista Nicolson

For More Information Check Out: 

1) Ten Reasons You Should Love Bats from the National Wildlife Federation Blog: https://blog.nwf.org/2013/10/10-reasons-you-should-love-bats/ 

2) Benefits of Bats From the U.S. National Park Service:  
https://www.nps.gov/subjects/bats/benefits-of-bats.htm 

3) Why are Bats Important? From United States Geological Survey (USGS): https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/why-are-bats-important?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products 

4) The Importance of Bats from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: 
https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/why-are-bats-important?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products 

Images from this blog post provided by: 

Bat covered in Pollen- Ami Pate, U.S. National Park Service: https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/pollinating-bat-courtesy-ami-pate-national-park-service 

Jamaican Fruit Bat- Taubert 

Bats Roosting in a Costa Rican Cave- Parr 

Northern Long-Eared Myotis Wing- Krista Nicolson, Toronto Zoo Native Bat Conservation Program 

Common Vampire Bat- Taubert 

References: 

(1) 10 Reasons You Should Love Bats • The National Wildlife Federation Blog. The National Wildlife Federation Blog. (2013). Retrieved 28 July 2021, from https://blog.nwf.org/2013/10/10-reasons-you-should-love-bats/

(2) Bats are one of the most important misunderstood animals. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2020). Retrieved 28 July 2021, from https://www.fws.gov/midwest/news/ImportanceOfBats.html

(3) Benefits of Bats. National Park Service. (2020). Retrieved 28 July 2021, from https://www.nps.gov/subjects/bats/benefits-of-bats.htm

(4) Calculate the Value of Bats. Fs.usda.gov. Retrieved 28 July 2021, from https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd476773.pdf

(5) Campbell, A. (2021). Bat Guano Fertilizer: Benefits and How to Use – Dre Campbell Farm. Dre Campbell Farm. Retrieved 28 July 2021, from https://drecampbell.com/bat-guano-fertilizer-benefits-how-to-use/

(6) Why are Bats Important to Humans?. Shumaker’s Animal Control. (2021). Retrieved 28 July 2021, from https://shumakeranimalremoval.com/blog/why-are-bats-important-to-humans/

(7) Why are bats important?. USGS.gov. Retrieved 28 July 2021, from https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/why-are-bats-important?qt-news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products