Bats don’t deserve the blame- a moment of science

A Moment of Science

Bats have been vilified throughout the years from classic cinema to the current pandemic. For many, they’re terrifying. Others have a different opinion. 

“As a bat biologist, I think they’re adorable! One of my friends mentioned that they’re like a chihuahua. Sort of ugly cute? No offense to chihuahua owners!”

Jennifer Kindel likes bats. As the State Bat Biologist for South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, she travels throughout the state, monitoring bat populations and working to help clear these creature’s reputation. Because, let’s face it-bats get a bad rap on account of the… you know, blood sucking. But despite what horror movies tell you, vampire bats aren’t all around us. 

Of the over 1400 species of bats in the world, only 3 are vampire bats. None of which live in the Lowcountry.

None of the nearly dozen bat species that live in South Carolina suck blood. But they do eat insects and a lot of them! A single brown bat can consume 150 bugs per minute. That adds up with hundreds of bats feasting throughout the night, eating mosquitos known to carry West Nile Virus and other insects that wreak havoc on crops. Kindel explains, “In South Carolina alone, they provide a pest suppression service for our ag industry of 115 million dollars a year. They really do a lot for us and we don’t even know it as they’re out there at night eating these insects. 

What else do they do for us? 

“Bats pollinate things such as agave- so without them we wouldn’t have tequila.”

She’s making it really difficult not to like bats.

A Northern Long Eared Bat found upstate. Photo credit: SC DNR

Disease is one of the main reasonings why people have an aversion to bats. They’re often falsely labeled as disease ridden “rats with wings,” often carrying rabies.

“Less than 1% of natural bat populations carry rabies. They aren’t riddled with rabies- which people are surprised by. There’s no data to support that bat populations carry and spread disease more than other mammals do,” Kindel says.

Bats often are seen as the scapegoat for many diseases- including the one we’ve been living through this year.

“For COVID there’s no proof that SARS COVID-2 originated from bats. There are hypothesis that it may have started with a horseshoe bat then jumped over to pangolins before going to humans. But none of that has actually been proven. The danger from COVID is from other people- not wildlife.”

Jennifer Kindel, SC DNR Bat Biologist

Despite this, earlier this year bats were killed out of fear of transmission. If this needless extermination isn’t bad enough, bats are really struggling as they face a different threat: white nose syndrome. This disease caused by a fungus has been decimating bat populations, particularly those that hibernate. Once infected, there’s not much that can be done. The Northern Long Eared bats that live in caves upstate have a 100% mortality rate with white nose syndrome.

Kindel and her team of volunteers are monitoring this deadly infection among hibernating bats in caves upstate. Above ground they survey declining bat populations using nets and special sonic instruments which can pick up on bat’s echolocation calls.

While bats may still be scary, or even disgusting to some, they don’t deserve all the blame they get. And they need our help now more than ever because a world without these questionably cute creatures would be much worse…with more mosquitos and no margaritas. Find more information on bats, including how to volunteer and how to create a home for bats in your backyard, on SC DNR’s website.

Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson

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