In the United States bats consume so many insect pests they prevent billions of dollars worth of damage to agriculture. These pests damage or eat our crops, and bats provide free, natural pest control year after year, as they have for a very long time and will continue to do so. One estimate said bats provide from $3.7 billion to $53 billion dollars a year in pest management services to American agriculture.
“We hope that our analysis gets people thinking more about the value of bats and why their conservation is important. The bottom line is that the natural pest-control services provided by bats save farmers a lot of money,” said Gary McCracken, a co-author of the analysis. (Source: USGS.gov)
If there were an attempt to duplicate the natural pest management they provide for free with human-made pesticides, surely that would result in even greater pollution of agricultural fields and the watersheds near them than already is taking place. Bats don’t just eliminate a massive number of insect pests their work reduces potential pesticide use, and also help keep entire ecosystems in balance.
Pest management is far from the only benefit bats provide to the natural world and to us. They also pollinate many species of plants. Five hundred species of tropical plants are entirely or partly dependent on bats for pollination. Bananas, mangoes and guavas are just several of these hundreds of plants. Bananas are the most popular fruit for humans and their exports are worth over $5 billion per year. Today’s commercial bananas are not bat dependent, but wild bananas are, and they were the original source of the bananas we use today. Bats were not responsible for just pollinating mangoes, they also carried them to different locations and dropped the seeds so new mango trees could grow. Bats also helped plant guava seeds in the same way, and pollinate them.
Saying bats are worth billions to humans for the free natural pest management they provide free pollination, and free seed dispersal is likely a huge underestimate. The true number must be in the trillions.
Generally bats are not a very popular kind of animal with humans, and are too often perceived as being dangerous or ugly. However, of the 1,200 bat species only three feed on blood, and these almost never bite humans. Furthermore, these bats only take tiny amounts of blood from their prey – usually cattle and horses. Any danger from their bite is due to potential transmission of disease, such as rabies. Actually the saliva of vampire bats might be medically beneficial for humans because it has been found to help prevent strokes. (The drug being developed is named Draculin as an homage to Count Dracula.)
Bats provide an enormous economic and ecological value, but are typically uncredited for their huge environmental contribution, and to the human food supply.
Image Credit: Brian Gratwicke