Bats. Honored in China and maligned in Western films, bats have an image problem. They typically generate shrieks and absolute terror by urbanites fearful of their imagination.
Who are these little creatures who inspire such fear in the West and honor in the East?
There are more than 900 species of bats in the world with more than 45 species of bats alone living in the United States. Bats are the only truly flying mammal. With a unique physical structure of bones, muscles and a thin skin membrane, bats are able to maneuver through nature with agility and swiftness. Bats typically live in quiet dark spaces from tree tops to barns to caves to attics away from predators. In colder regions, bats will either hibernate or migrate.
Bats, graceful in their flight and chatter, are another indicator of changes in our environment. In recent years, scientific reports are revealing troubling signs of an epidemic of cases of white-nose syndrome, which is a fungal infection attacking the skin of hibernating bats. Millions of bats have died – puzzling scientists as to why and what is causing these deaths.
Why does this matter to any earthly dweller who shops in the supermarket with nicely stacked pyramids of fruit? Bats play a vital role in nature and farming by pollenating plants while at the same eating vast quantities of insects. Without bats pollenating or eating their full of insects, the demand for farmers to use extra pollenating treatments and pesticides would increase. Farmers would have an unexpected bill to pay; and, consumers would be faced with higher priced fresh produce.
It is imperative to monitor and find answers to the white-nose syndrome plaguing the bat population. At the beginning and end of the day, bats play a vital role in our food production; perhaps this is why in the Chinese tradition bats are the ultimate symbol of good fortune.
By Keri Douglas, writer/photographer, Washington, D.C.