Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Bats and White Nose Syndrome

By: Brittany Friedel, Wildlife Education Intern

     Bats are possibly one of the most misunderstood creatures of all time.  Legends and myths occur in many cultures, often painting bats in an unfortunate light.  Writers like William Shakespeare and Robert Louis Stevenson have also contributed to negative stereotypes through their fictional works.  This frightening imagery has led to many cases of chiroptophobia – or fear of bats.  Many people need not fear bats, however.  They are extremely helpful creatures, and prefer to leave humans alone, contrary to popular fiction.  Included below is a table of the most common bat myths versus the truth.

     The 13 bat species in Ohio are especially beneficial to the landscape.  They are excellent insect eaters; just one Big brown bat can eat up to 1,200 insects an hour.  This dramatically reduces the pests that farmers and even families have to deal with.  The USGS estimates that bats save the agricultural industry anywhere from $3 billion to $53 billion a year.  Not only do bats inadvertently help our local economy by reducing our pest load, they are important components of Ohio’s ecosystem.  Bats produce nutrient-rich guano (feces).  Scientific analysis of guano has revealed hundreds of species of beneficial bacteria.  Their guano acts as a powerful fertilizer, and can often sustain cave, terrestrial, and aquatic ecosystems.        

     Unfortunately, bats are under many threats and are experiencing drastic declines in population.  The most distressing is a fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome (WNS). First observed in a cave system in upstate New York in 2006, WNS has spread without check into all neighboring states and provinces.   The first case of WNS in Ohio was reported in March 2011 in Lawrence County.   Currently, 25 states and five provinces have confirmed cases.

     WNS is a devastating disease because it affects bats while they are in hibernation.  The cold-loving fungus, P. destructans, produces white fuzz on the noses, forearms, and ears of bats during the later stages of infection.  The most afflicting feature of WNS causes bats to use up their reservoir of energy while in winter hibernation.  Bats must carefully manage their energy and fat levels throughout their entire hibernation, failure to do so causes normal body processes to collapse.  Infected bats exhibit strange behavior, including flying outside during the day and clustering at the entrances of caves.  As a result of WNS, millions of bats have died.  Some areas have seen 90-100% mortality rates.

     In order to stop the spread of WNS, humans must take action:

  • Stay out of caves where bats are known or suspected to hibernate. 
  • Avoid disturbing bats in the winter.  
  • Disinfect all gear that has been used around cave systems.     
Other ways to help bats include, educating others about the benefits of bats and the devastating effects of WNS, constructing a bat house, volunteering on bat surveys, excluding or removing bats from your home safely, and reducing disturbances to natural bat habitats around your home.  For more information about WNS, go to https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/ 

Match the Myth with the like-numbered Truth to learn more about bats...    


  1. Bats carry rabies.
  2. Bats attack humans.  
  3. Bats drink blood.
  4. Bats are blind. 
  5. Bats are useless.


  1. Bats are no more prone to rabies than any other mammal.  They don’t “carry” it, they die from it, like other animals.  Only .5% of bats contract rabies.
  2. Like any animal, a cornered and scared bat will defend itself, but bats do not swoop down to attack humans.  They are likely chasing after a tasty insect meal in these highly unlikely scenarios.
  3. No bat in Ohio drinks blood.  In fact, just three species out of the 1,100+ known bat species in the world drink blood.  Those bats lap blood from a quick cut, not suck it from the animal.   In fact, anticoagulants from bat saliva have helped scientists develop heart medication. 
  4. Bats are not blind.  In fact, some see as well as most humans.  Their eyesight is adapted to low-light conditions, and they use echolocation to locate to prey.
  5. Nothing could be further from the truth!  Bats are extremely useful, consuming as many as 600-1,200 flying insects an hour. Their extraordinary eating abilities endear them to farmers and homeowners alike, who appreciate the vast reduction in pests like mosquitoes and flies.  Some bats even pollinate flowers or distribute seeds, ensuring that bananas, avocados, agave, mangoes, peaches, and many other fruits can make it to our kitchen tables.  

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