Bats Have an Important Role in Our Ecosystem, Such as Increasing Biodiversity in Our Environment


>>The Wildlife
Center of Virginia is one of the world’s
leading teaching and research
hospitals for wildlife and conservation medicine. Each year the center provides
state-of-the-art veterinary and rehabilitative care for
nearly 3,000 wild animals with one goal in mind, returning the animal
to its natural habitat. (dramatic upbeat music)>>Because the majority of
North American bat species are colonial bats, places like
this are critical habitat. Caves, caverns, and
even old mine shafts provide the essential
home for many bat species. Now today, I’m visiting
the Grand Caverns Cave at Grand Caverns Regional
Park in Grottoes, Virginia. And originally more
than 100 years ago, when this cave was
first developed, people came simply to marvel
at the subterranean splendor that is in this cave. But now we understand that the
cave is far more important, not just as a
tourist attraction, but as a major component
of the ecosystem and of the life
cycle of the bat. Today, humans still come
and go and are visited but parts of the cave are
set aside to remain wild, where the bats can continue
to live out their life cycle as they’ve done for centuries. Now, that often means we
have to limit human access. And that is done
often by installing what are called bat gates,
like the one here behind me. It allows the bats to
come and go freely, but eliminates uncontrolled
or unregulated human access, providing the best
of all worlds. This is critically important because bats across North
America are in decline. They are facing
serious problems, and most of those problems
have their origin with people. (slow soft music) It’s no secret that people can have a very
vivid imagination, and this is nowhere better seen than in our folklore
and our legends. And people also seem
to love being scared. If you ever sit around
the campfire at night telling ghost stories or
stories of Count Dracula, who wants to drink your
blood, and the popularity of zombies rising from the dead, well, that’s proof
of my concept. But there is one type of animal that most frequently
seems to be associated with scary things,
and that is bats. Well the truth is,
it’s understandable. Bats only come at night, they seem to disappear
during the daylight hours. They often come from underground where the subterranean
spirits live. And if you ever see
their faces up close, well a lot of those are faces
only a mother could love. But the truth is bats
are extremely beneficial and really fascinating animals. Most of them in North
America are insect eaters, but in many parts of the
world bats are pollinators and are really
critical in reseeding and distributing fruit seeds from the fruit that they consume to reforest and reestablish
biological diversity. The bat is a much maligned, but now an increasingly
valued family of animals. There are about
1300 species of bats found all over the world, and they’re found in
almost every environment except the most arid desert and the most frigid
polar region. But everyone else,
bats have adapted. Now the diversity of bat
species is incredible. The smallest of the bats
found anywhere in the world is the tiny little
bumblebee bat, found in Thailand and Myanmar. Its body is just
over an inch long. It weighs less than
1/4 of an ounce, and its entire wingspan
is about six inches. Contrast that with the
largest bat in the world, the golden crowned fruit bat. He can weigh 2 1/2 pounds and have a wingspan that
approaches six feet, an enormous fruit eating bat. The diversity of bat species goes well beyond just
the range of size. There’s great diversity
in their appearance, their lifestyle, and
their natural history. Their diet is an example
of some of this diversity. Most perhaps eat insects but
in other parts of the world, some catch and eat fish, some
catch and eat small animals, others consume fruit, some
are consumers of nectar, and three species
actually drink blood. But that’s three
species out of 1300. In the continental
United States, we have about 50
species of bats. Now, some of them are solitary
bats that dwell in trees, like the red bat, which
is found in all states east of the Rocky Mountains. They are found
hiding in the foliage where their brown color looks
simply like a dead leaf. They come out at night,
forage for insects, hide in the foliage
during the day. But many of our bat
species are colonial bats, and for them caves are critical, and many of them will
adapt to human structures, but majority of them
will live in caves, old mine shafts, or natural
underground grottoes. Now, tourism has actually
evolved around bat species. Hard to believe, but if you
visit the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, every evening, people gather in the
large natural amphitheater right around the
entrance to the cave, where between 200,000 and
500,000 free-tailed bats will emerge in a flood
of life every evening to take off into the night
sky to consume flying insects. In Austin, Texas,
they go one better. There, the free-tailed bat has adapted to a
human structure, what is called the
Congress Avenue Bridge that crosses the Lady Bird Lake. And each and every night, 1.5 million free-tailed bats come out from under that bridge, disperse across the city, and
control the flying insects that affect people
and the environment. These bats are so popular, every evening the entire
length of the bridge can be lined with
tourists and visitors, both local and from
across the country, coming to see this
natural marvel. Bats are incredible.>>So common doesn’t mean boring, by any stretch of
the imagination. You don’t get to be common unless you’re really
good at what you do. And so our most common
bat, the big brown bat, is really good at eating
mostly crop pests. People tend to think
bats eat mosquitoes, but that’s like
eating a potato chip when you could have a
brownie or a cheeseburger or something more
nutritionally valuable. So, a big brown bat is referred
to as the farmer’s friend. They eat stink
bugs, leaf hoppers, those big giant May beetles that are actually
bigger than their heads. They can somehow catch them and crunch them up and eat them. So, they’re basically out
there protecting our food crops and our forests,
and probably roses or whatever you’re
into for your garden. So with all that
ability to echolocate to find an insect in
the middle of the night, to navigate in total darkness, and to know where you’re going, they have this incredible
mapping ability, and I think that’s fascinating, and because the
echolocation drives, like the auditory ability, they have really
great communication. They talk to each other, and I just learned, I want
to say it was last year at one of the Bat
Working Group meetings, that a lot of these
males are out there singing social songs in
the ultrasound at night. And they mate in the
fall around here, so they’re out there wooing
the ladies through song. And sometimes they like
to hang out on a wall in a really exposed place so that they can show off
just how tough they are. So, I think they’re singing
and they’re showing off, and so all these
things that people do. And I think sometimes we forget that everybody’s out there
looking for enough food, an appropriate mate, and
a safe place to live, and a good place to
raise the babies. So bats are doing that, too, they just tend to do it in
the middle of the night. So, along with that
singing and communicating and doing those sorts
of social things, leads me to question, you know, what are they doing out
there amongst themselves. So, with all our
diversity of species, there’s several
different strategies. But with our colonial bats, the ones who people
get all worried about because they’re in the attic
or behind the shutters, they live in groups. They actually have a really
neat social structure where it’s called the
fission fusion model. And basically, there’s
a subgroup of animals that know each other. And they aren’t
necessarily related, they kind of hang out together ’cause maybe they
just like each other. And so that subgroup
will stick together, but periodically,
some will leave and go hang out with
that colony over there, or maybe go visit the folks. Who knows? But there seems to be a
lot of information flow and a lot of movement among
this larger social group. And the analogies we have
for that sort of behavior would be elephants, and
dolphins, and humans. So it’s a really complicated
social structure, where there’s like
this meta-colony, like we have a huge
circle of friends, but we don’t necessarily
hang out with everybody. And sometimes we’d
really prefer to hang out with our friends and maybe
not go home for Thanksgiving. So, it seems to be a
similar kind of structure. And that works if
you live in places where your tree might fall down, or your cave might flood, or your barn comes
tumbling to the ground. So it’s a it’s a really good
strategy for large groups of socially intelligent animals. So the other thing, going
back to the language, they’ve done some studies on what’s called the
Brazilian free-tail. It’s the bat that lives
in the caves in Texas that comes out in those
great huge clouds. And interestingly enough, that species seems to
be moving northward. And we do pick them up
periodically in Virginia. So, they’re a very
interesting bat to me. And one thing I
learned about them is they seem to exhibit
a rudimentary syntax, which they’ll have
a phrase they use, and they’ll be just shift
a syllable in that phrase, and the work that
was done on that suggested that they’re
self-identifying. So like, you’ll have
a male out there doing his stereotypic phrase
with that signature syllable. And (laughs) I tell
people, it’s like, “Hey, look at me,
look at me, I’m Bob,” and some guy over there going, “Hey, look at me,
look at me, Joe.” So, but they’re
able to, you know, have these very individual
signature phrases, which I think is super
cool for an animal that, you know, we don’t hear
them do a lot of things, but they do a lot of things, and I just think
they’re fascinating. (phone ringing)>>Wildlife Center of
Virginia, this is Caroline. How can I help you?>>I have a colony of bats up in the roof of my pool house, and there’s a little
baby that has fallen out.>>Okay, without
touching the animal, can you tell me if
the bat has fur?>>Only a little bit. It’s very small.>>Do you see any blood
or other signs of injury?>>No, it looks okay, just tiny.>>You’re right to be concerned. Baby bats should never
be on the ground alone, it does need help. The best thing to do first, since it doesn’t
appear to be injured, is to try and get that
bat back into the colony. If we aren’t able to reunite it, we can certainly consider
rescue if needed. Are you willing to try to
return the bat to the colony?>>Okay, yes. What should I do?>>You mentioned the bats
are in your pool house. Do you have a pool skimmer?>>Yes, I do.>>Okay, keep in mind that
bats can transmit rabies. It’s highly unlikely for a pup, but to keep yourself
and the bat safe, don’t have any bare
skin contact with it. While wearing gloves,
such gardening gloves, use a washcloth to
gently scoop the bat onto the pool skimmer. Allow it to grab
on with his toes and then use the
length of the skimmer to prop the bat up
right next to the colony so that it can crawl back in. Leave it overnight and if the
baby is still in the skimmer in the morning,
give us a call back.>>Okay, I will do that. I just love these guys. They’re so neat. I hope the baby will be okay.>>It’s awesome
that you have bats. You must have a great
habitat around your home.>>Thank you so much. I’ll call tomorrow.>>Good luck. Let me know if you
need any further help. Bye-bye.>>Bat pups, as they’re called, bat babies are called pups, it’s more of a North
American usage, they call them other things
in Australia and the UK, but bat pups around here, as you’ve seen, the
bats are really tiny, so imagine how
tiny the pups are. So for instance, a tri-color
bat pup is under a gram and she has twins. And so these really tiny species can be almost impossible to feed when they’re when
they’re so, so new. Once they have fur, you
have a better success rate with the little itty bitty ones. But big brown
bats, they’re huge. They’re born at two grams. They’re really good at
using an artificial nipple or even lapping. So, big brown bats we have
really good success with. And they are, because
they’re so colonial, we raise them together and they sort of
learn from each other. So you start them on a
milk replacer formula. And then we mix in
ground up meal worms, and they think
that’s very tasty. And so we go from there
and graduate them on to learning how
to eat meal worms. And so it’s a stepwise process. And it’s a little easier
with these colonial bats because like I said, they
learn from each other. There’s a whole nother group
of bats called solitary bats. And they are raised in
little sibling groups with their mother. So, while the
adults are solitary, the little sibling
groups are not, and they kind of hang together
like a cluster of grapes. And they tend to be a little
more difficult to teach to eat on their own. But they are really good
when they start flying and figuring out catching bugs. So they teach themselves
the bug catching thing a lot faster than
the colonial bats do. So it’s sort of interesting, those two different strategies
for getting through life kind of lead to different
strengths in learning. However, you can take those
solitary bat siblings, and even if they’re
not siblings, if you put them together,
they will act like siblings, So they just kind
of come together and they’ll hang out together, and it’s really
pretty cool to watch. So, you know, bats are mammals, and all mammals
love their babies. And I know that the
anthropomorphizing but we know that
animals have emotion. We can’t really
say what they are, so all we can do is use
the language we have to describe emotion, so we know they’re very
attached to their babies. So I had a bat
here that came over from the Wildlife
Center of Virginia. And Dr. Peach was the admitting
vet and I got her here and she developed some
issues with her thumbs. And bat wings are
basically hands, and their thumbs are
really crucial for them to be able to climb, because when they have
their fingers all folded up, they’re not always flying, and if you need to go
somewhere, they go like this. So thumbs are really
critical to their ability to get along in the wild. And she was developing
these skin issues where it looked like she might
actually lose her thumbs. The skin was hardening, the
nail bed was getting damaged. So we put her on
medication and it worked. It was great, her thumbs healed
up, and she looked fabulous, except she was quite pregnant. (laughs) We try not to have animals
give birth in captivity because it sets back
release schedules and all that sort of stuff, but you know, you
can’t change nature. So, I was waiting and
waiting and waiting for the baby to come and
the baby didn’t come. And then one day she
was on the ground and I checked her and
she was in the process of giving birth. And I left her alone because
who wants to be bothered? So, I came back and
the baby hadn’t moved, it was partially out
and it was just stuck. And I waited, it was probably
close to 10 o’clock at night. And so I was furiously
texting Dr. Peach, asking her what am
I supposed to do. And she’s giving me advice, and midwifing something
that’s only 18 grams, and who is not happy with
you, is difficult at best. So with a combination
of you know, Q-tips and surgical lube, and we’re just trying to
help this baby come out is really tough. And, eventually, Dr. Peach said, “You’re just going to have
to pull that baby out,” which was horrifying. So, I did. I got some padded forceps
and I thought for sure this baby was dead because
it had been so long. And everything I could see, it
didn’t even look like a baby. I wasn’t even sure
what it really was. So I use the forceps
and pulled back, and out popped this head,
and it wasn’t breathing. And I thought well, you
know, that’s too bad. And as the baby, I just
kept pulling it out, as the baby came out, the bat jumped,
well, not jumped, but she glommed onto him
and she just started licking and licking and
licking and licking. And then he went (gasps)
and he started breathing. And she just kept licking
him and licking him and then he started vocalizing. And then she just kept
doing her mom thing, it was amazing, and that
would not have happened had it not been for
Dr. Peach being willing to take my texts at 10
o’clock at night, (laughs) and talk me through that. So it was truly amazing. (slow soft music)>>Bats are admitted
to the Wildlife Center for a variety of reasons, such as being caught by a cat, being caught in the grill
of people’s vehicles. Sometimes people just
find that in their attic or whenever they’re
replacing shutters. Oftentimes those bats are okay, but people will bring
them in just to see if they have any injuries. Of course, the bats
that are caught by cats, or stuck in the grill of
the car are often injured. And other times we just
don’t know why they come in. Some of the common
injuries that we see here are wing fractures
or tears in the skin or the membrane of the wings. The wing fractures, depending on where those
fractures are located and the extent of the fracture, may or may not be
able to be repaired. If they just have
lacerations or punctures in the membrane of those wings, the skin membrane itself is a
highly vascularized structure with a lot of nervous
tissue as well, and can actually
heal pretty well. Examining a bat can
be very challenging. They’re very small,
they’re often very feisty, and they can become
highly stressed out whenever we’re examining them. Oftentimes, we’ll try
to do a very brief exam to make sure that we identify
any obvious fractures or injuries, and then we
try to get those animals under anesthesia to complete
the rest of the exam in order to minimize the stress. We often anesthetize them
just with gas anesthesia, and then keep them
under anesthesia for the remainder of the exam. Oftentimes, while
they’re under anesthesia, we’ll go ahead and
do X-rays on them and see if we have
any obvious fractures or any obvious internal trauma. But bats being so very small, sometimes it’s hard to see
the detail on those X-rays if, unless there’s something
really obvious.>>While the news
is full of stories about emerging
diseases affecting both
humans and animals, when we think about
bats, one of the diseases that instantly comes
to mind is rabies. And indeed, there is
a strain of rabies that is unique to bats, and
that strain is zoonotic, it can infect humans. And if humans are infected and
don’t get treated right away, it is a deadly disease.>>So rabies is a virus that affects the nervous
system of animals. Any mammal can carry rabies, however, bats are
one of the mammals that people moreso think
about with rabies virus. However, only less
than half of 1% of the wild population of
bats actually has rabies, and it’s transmitted through
the bite of that animal. Most of the time, you will know if you’ve been bitten by a bat. Their teeth are very sharp and bats that are biting out
of defense really mean it. The cases where sometimes
people are bitten and they don’t realize it
are if that person was asleep and a bat is found
in their room, in those cases we do
recommend trying to capture and submit that that to
the Health Department for testing of rabies. And it’s also very
important for the public not to handle bats
without gloves on because their teeth
are very sharp.>>The truth is that bats are
also on the receiving end, and sometimes what
they are receiving is disease threats
that are transported and transmitted by humans.>>White-nose syndrome
is caused by a fungus called Pseudogymnoascus
destructans, or PD for short, and this fungus first
showed up in bats in North America in
upstate New York in 2007. However, it’s thought that
it was here at least a year, maybe moreso, before it
was actually confirmed. The fungus itself, we’re
not sure how it got into the United States
or where it came from, but it is suspected to
be related to the strain that affects European bats. The fungus itself, since 2006, has spread to over
36 of the states in the United States and
seven Canadian provinces. However, by the time this airs, it may be even more common
than than it is now. It is estimated that over
six million bats have died because of white-nose syndrome. The actual fungus itself
really loves cold, moist environments,
such as caves, and the fungus can
grow in the cave and actually on
hibernating bats. And so what happens
whenever a bat is affected by white-nose syndrome, those that are woken
up from their torpor, and they come out of the cave to feed during the
middle of winter. However, there aren’t any
food resources available, their water resources
are limited. So those bats end up
spending more energy and end up starving and
becoming very dehydrated. The fungus can be
found on the nose and the wings of the bat, which is where the white-nose
syndrome gets its name.>>Like never before,
bats need our help, and we all need to participate in the conservation of
these incredible species. And there are things
that you can do. On the simple end of things, consider putting up a
bat box at your home, place of business, or your farm. You can buy them online
from organizations like Bat Conservation
International, or if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you can get the plans
at your local library or online and build
your own bat boxes. They’re simple to
build, easy to install, and they really do
provide valuable habitat for a variety of bat species. And bringing those bags to
your home helps you as well because they consume a
lot of flying insects, including the mosquitoes. Now you can also
become a bat advocate by getting involved in
public policy decisions that affect bats, the
protection of caves or management of
underground resources where bats have found habitat. Critically important. Join or participate in
conservation organizations that are concerned
with bat conservation, such as Bat Conservation
International or
the organizations like the National
Speleological Society that are conserving
caves and grottoes. And if you really want to
get to know your local bats, invest in a little technology. There are special
microphones available called the bat detectors that
will attach to your smartphone or to a tablet computer
that will record and listen to the sounds the bat makes that are outside the
human hearing range. They will convert those
and translate those into auditory signals
and graphic signals of the sound imprint, and you will be fascinated. With a free downloadable app you can even find
out what species is making each individual sound. But the bottom line
is: get involved. The bats in your neighborhood
are good neighbors and you’ll be glad you
help them stay around. (dramatic upbeat music)

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