Did you ever see the movie The Sixth Sense? (Spoiler Alert! – hey, it’s been 21 years!) You know the one where Bruce Willis is a ghost and neither the viewers nor his character realize it until the end of the movie. And it all makes “sense” (get it?) when the end of the movie goes through flashbacks. What’s wilde, is that there were all these clues and hints that most of us seemed to have missed throughout the film. And at the end of the movie…surprised, right? I still remember my utter amazement while hearing audible gasps from the entire movie theatre when I saw it way back in 1999.
This is the feeling I had when I started to educate myself about bats. (You knew I was going to have to address this soon, right?) The more and more I drilled into researching bats, the more epiphanies I had:
“What? ‘One bat can catch up to 1,000 insects in an hour including mosquitoes that carry West Nile and other deadly viruses?'” Yep.
“No way! ‘Fruit bats account for up to 95% of early reforestation of cleared land due to their ability to disperse seeds.'” That’s right.
“Good gravy! ‘More than 300 species of food-producing plants depend on bats for pollination, including: Guavas, Bananas, Cacao (Cocoa), Mangos, Figs, Dates, Cashews, Peaches, and Agave tequilana (hello margaritas!)'” Hell yeah.
“Wow. ‘Just 5 – 6% of bats captured for testing have rabies. I.E., All bats do not carry rabies. There are zero to two human deaths per year from bat rabies in the United States. A person living in the U.S. is more likely to catch leprosy or the plague than to contract rabies from a bat. Throughout the world 30,000+ people die from the disease each year – 99% of these deaths come from contact with rabid dogs.'” You heard that right.
Bear with me, as I will get serious for a moment. “Since 2005, when coronaviruses in horseshoe bats were first hypothesized to be the ancestors of the coronavirus that caused SARS, bats have received far more scrutiny than any other group of animals. For example, in the study on which the scariest headlines were based, researchers sampled nearly twice as many bats as rodents, shrews, and nonhuman primates combined and didn’t even include carnivores or ungulates…Not surprisingly, more viruses have been found in bats than in less-surveyed species, so biased speculation has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We don’t yet know if bats have more viruses than other animals because we haven’t similarly sampled others. And even if bats do have more, the number of viruses isn’t necessarily indicative of transmission risk. Many viruses are innocuous or possibly even beneficial.” -Dr. Merlin Tuttle.
My point with all of these facts is to provide a bit of education. No one defending bats (or any wild animal) is suggesting let’s all go out bar hopping with some bats, coyotes, and bears. However, what advocates are saying is to realize that these animals are not inherently evil and simply existing just as we humans are. The exotic wildlife trade and human behavior is the number one cause for zoonotic spillover that cause these pandemics. It is not bats, pangolins, or snakes. To boot, bats are no where near the only mammals that carry various diseases, including humans!
We need to respect them while learning more about them instead of demonizing through fear and misunderstanding. There are so many more wonderful things about earth’s only flying mammal that I want to share, but I will stop here and drop notes in the future.
I know it can be tough to accept, just like it was for Bruce Willis’s character in the movie. But hopefully through continued education we can all take bigs gasps of amazement instead of screams of panic for these outstanding creatures.
If you would like to read more about the scapegoating of bats in current times, I highly encourage you to read bat biologist and advocate Dr. Merlin Tuttle’s op ed piece: “A Viral Witch Hunt”
oh and one last myth to bust: “Bats are blind.” Most bats’ eyes are small and sometimes poorly developed, but they work just fine. Megabats—larger bats that include fruit bats actually depend on sight and smell to search for food.
p.s. if you want to continue the party with bats, the original sold last week, but Pre-ordering for fresh out of the oven “Simply Glazed” prints are now live! Beautifully reproduced signed archival print on Hahnemühle German Etching Paper. Available in 8×10, 11×14, and 16×20 sizes. All pre-orders placed before on or before May 15th will receive a very special surprise!