bat opening its mouth

Guest Blog: Let Sleeping Bats Lie

No bats. No agave. No tequila. And, yes, more mosquitos. Credit: Todd Craven on Unsplash.

Undergrad Cheyanne Boucher studies wildlife ecology and management. In her guest blog on bat conservation, she explains what's waking up sleeping bats.

If you don’t like mosquitos, but like tequila, then you should love bats.

I love being outdoors, but my love for one thing is taken over by my hate for another, mosquitos. Not only are they buzzing around me while I am outside, even when I am inside they still seem to be bothering me with the little, itchy, red dots they have managed to leave behind. If you haven’t noticed already, the population of mosquitos has been increasing. One of the reasons for this increase is due to the decrease in bats. Bats are known to eat over one million insects a year, mosquitos make up many of those meals.

So now that we know why we need bats for controlling the mosquito population, how do bats relate to tequila? Mexican long-tongued bats are the primary pollinators of agave, the plant tequila is made from. The species is already considered endangered in the US and if it becomes impacted by WNS … with a decrease in bats, it will cause an increase in price for tequila. Imagine what your life would be without margaritas! 

three bats on a cave ceiling, one has a fuzzy white patch on its nose
 White Nose Syndrome is caused by a fungus that infects sleeping bats in their winter hibernacula. Credit: Shelly Colatskie/MDC

So why are all these bats dying? It's because of a disease called white nose syndrome (WNS). White nose syndrome has spread across 30 states in the US within the last 10 years, Michigan being one. In 2014, WNS hit 11 northern counties in Michigan and has been spreading since. So far six species of hibernating bats in the US have been documented with WNS, and another 19 are at risk.

This disease is caused by a white fungus that grows in the nose and wings of hibernating bats, making them look like they have a white nose, hence the name. During the winter many bats hibernate and need to use their fat reserves wisely. When a bat is infected with WNS it causes erosion of their wings, and an increase in the carbon dioxide in the bat’s blood, causing dehydration. The increase in carbon dioxide wakes the bat up from hibernation and causes them to use up their fat reserves quicker. The more severe the disease, the more frequent the arousal. Eventually the bat will become dehydrated, their fat reserves will run out and they will die.

There is currently no treatment for bats infected with WNS, so the best thing humans can do is try to prevent spreading it. Bats are infected by coming in contact with the fungus. So this could be just bat-to-bat contact, or the fungus being on the walls in mines and caves. To help stop the spread, anyone entering a mine or a cave should clean their equipment, clothing and shoes before and after entering. Saving the bats, means that you are saving tequila.

little brown bat hanging from the top of a cave formation
 Little brown bats, common in the Keweenaw, have been one of the hardest hit species by White Nose Syndrome. Credit: Ann Froschauer/USFWS

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.