Climate Change Is Killing Australian Bats on a ‘Biblical Scale’

A staggering November heat wave in Australia killed at least 23,000 bats over two days, according to wildlife scientists. They fear climate change is responsible — and that it will happen again.

Before November 2018, Australia had only about 75,000 spectacled fruit bats — also known as flying foxes. At least a third of that number are now dead. And researchers from Western Sydney University believe the projected number of deaths might even be higher.

Bats struggle when temperatures reach a life-threatening 107ºF, or 42ºC. In far north Queensland, temperatures exceeded 107ºF for at least two days in a row. Even at night, for a time it never dipped below 102.2ºF — and that’s miserably hot.

It’s no wonder, then, that flying foxes from colonies in the Cairns area simply dropped dead from trees in the heat. Some area residents had to flee their homes to avoid the stench of thousands of rotting bat carcasses.

In Australia this event was the second-largest mass die-off of flying foxes ever recorded. And it was the first for this particular species of flying fox bat.

Flying foxes weren’t the only species  badly affected by the heatwave. About 10,000 black flying foxes also died during the same period.

“This sort of event has not happened in Australia this far north since European settlement,” ecologist Dr. Justin Welbergen, president of the Australasian Bat Society, told the BBC. “[I]t’s clear from climate change projections that this [type of heat event] is set to escalate in the future.”

This heat wave occurred at a particularly bad time of year — the beginning of flying fox birthing season. That meant hundreds of baby bats became orphaned. About 850 of them ended up with rescuers who are serving as “bat carers” until the little ones can make it on their own.

For bats, this was a die-off of “biblical scales” says Welbergen.

Why is this happening?

Scientists believe climate change is a factor — and possibly a big one.

“A certain proportion of such an extreme event can certainly be statistically attributed to climate change for sure. I think the jury is no longer out on that,” Welbergen told ABC News Australia. “Science pretty much agrees this is a sign of things to come.”

Sadly, this event is far from unusual in Australia. According to Welbergen, extreme heat events kill at least 1,000 flying foxes every year.

Since 2008 — when Welbergen’s researchers identified more than 30,000 casualties going all the way back to settlement of the Cairns area — they’ve found evidence for at least nine other major events which resulted in combined casualties of more than 100,000 bats.

“This is an unprecedented and shocking heat-stress event,” Humane Society International’s Evan Quartermain told The Guardian, “with climate change seeing threatened species never before affected dropping by the thousands and dependent pups left motherless.”

Long-term flying fox conservation in Australia is at risk with numbers like these. However, it’s not just bats we need to worry about. Sustained and repeated extreme heat events like these put any number of other animals at risk as well.

Drought conditions at the Darling River have killed hundreds of thousands of bony herring golden, silver perch and Murray cod, for example.

“If 30 per cent of all koalas die in a forest, who will be there to see them and count the dead bodies?” Welberger asked ABC News Australia. “Flying foxes are Australia’s canaries in the coal mine.”

Climate change isn’t just sea level rise and melting polar ice caps. It’s also unrelenting killer heat. It’s a problem we have to do something about — now.

Photo credit: Getty Images

76 comments

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson5 days ago

Thank you.

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner12 days ago

Past member, you've posted that same crap several times before about volcanoes. All volcanic events combined don't even equal a tiny fraction of the CO2 pumped out by human fossil fuel burning. Just go away nobody's believing you.

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Sophie A
Sophie A13 days ago

Thank you

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salah z
salah zoubiri20 days ago

Such devastation

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salah z
salah zoubiri20 days ago

It is heartbreaking

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salah z
salah zoubiri20 days ago

Yes much destruction is being experienced in Australia at the moment

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salah z
salah zoubiri20 days ago

Very sad

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Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D20 days ago

Heartbreaking article. It seems climate change is killing everyone and everything except tRUMP. Sadly, he is thriving.

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Catherine Z
Catherine Z20 days ago

oops! I clicked the Post Comments before commenting! Wanted to say thank you for the enlightenment

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Carol Johnson
Carol J21 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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