by Kaley Lefevre

Photo: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Photo: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

With Halloween right around the corner, bats are bound to be seen throughout Athens in the form of spooky decorations and fun costumes. Fortunately, the mammals themselves will be present around town as well to assist with maintaining the natural landscape by feeding off of the available flora and fauna. 

Though bats are often viewed negatively as rodents and nuisances, these smart mammals are vital to our existing ecosystem not only through their environment management, but also through the keystone role they play in many food chains. 

Pete Pattavina, a Southeast Regional White-Nose Syndrome Coordinator, said there are a plethora of reasons why he finds bats to be so interesting. 

Photo: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Photo: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

“What impressed me so much when I started studying bats was how long-lived they are,” he said. “They aren’t like a mouse or a rat that has multiple litters of young a year. [Bats] have one or two pups a year, and they can live [up to] 40 years old, which is incredible for an animal that small.” 

Bats are also impressively intelligent, have an elaborate social network and are capable of traveling hundreds of miles to hibernate every year.  

Pattavina’s focus on bats’ many capabilities is overshadowed, however, by White-nose Syndrome, which is a fungus that has overtaken entire species of bats within only six short years. 

According to Pattavina, nearly 95 percent of Tri-colored Bats have disappeared since they were last counted four years ago. 

“A train tunnel in North Georgia had almost 5,000 bats in it when we first counted it,” he said. “I think the [most recent] time we counted, we had somewhere around 200.” 

The fungus responsible for this staggering decline in these small bats was a complete mystery to scientists until recently. Because the fungus is difficult to understand yet intensely powerful in its wrath, bats are literally dropping like flies across the entire country. Pattavina said it’s because of this exact reason that biologists have been left feeling helpless as they attempt to learn so much about a disease and produce a cure in such a short time. 

Though there is not currently a definite cure to the fungus, Pattavina is hopeful that the few possibilities they have worked towards will produce positive results in the near future. 

Though there is nothing an average citizen can do to assist in this research aside from donating to the cause, there are still many other ways we can help the bats that are still left in our region. 

Katrina Morris, a Wildlife Biologist at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR, emphasized the impact of our lessening amounts of natural landscapes available for these animals. She stressed the importance of planting native species in our yards to attract native insects who can thrive off the environment. The bats will then be attracted to those areas and will assist in the maintenance of our yards, most likely without even alerting us of it. 

According to Morris, the increased use of pesticides has likely had a significant effect on our bats, as well, considering those pesticides will eventually be consumed. 

Many citizens often have an inherent fear of bats coming to roost in their houses, especially if they are knowingly attracting them to land. Luckily, there are safe ways to remove bats from houses without harming them.

According to GADNR’s website and Pattavina’s expertise, one of the most important factors to consider when removing a roost from your attic or chimney is the timing of doing so. 

If a bat has just had a pup that has not yet gained any fur and cannot fly, the idea of evicting that bat out of the house is nearly impossible. Instead, Pattavina instructs to wait until the bats are grown and capable of flying before installing a one-way plastic door that will allow the bats to leave the structure safely, but not return. 

If a citizen feels so inclined to offer a safer home for bats, they can do so by constructing a bat-house for their yard that will invite bats to roost when the environment reaches cold enough temperatures.

Though every citizen may not enjoy the idea of creating a house for bats, it is vital that citizens understand the importance of these special creatures and do what they can to assist with preserving them. 

According to Pattavina, if White-nose Syndrome continues in the direction it has been heading since it was first seen in 2005, there could be such a drastic decrease in these mammals that we may never see them again in such large capacities. 

For animals that do essentially nothing but help us, it is time for us to do our part to help them in return.