Pretty much all types of bats are creepy, but not nearly as creepy as you may think.
While they tend to get a bad rap because of that whole mythical "turning into vampires" thing, these little creatures are actually quite helpful. According to the BBC, most types of bats are providing an important (and incredibly expensive service) to humans, and one of our major food sources.
BBC reports that bats "provide a service worth an estimated US $1bn globally by controlling pests on corn crops, a study has suggested." The mind-boggling estimate was originally reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This information is more important than ever because bat populations are having trouble thriving all over the world. Scientists think this is because of disease and habitat loss.
So, how bad off are bats? The little creatures truly aren't doing well. The BBC reports that North American bat populations have been severely threatened by White-Nose Syndrome for years.
"Since 2007, the disease has killed millions of bats and continues to spread. The US National Wildlife Health Centre estimated that bat populations in the north-east of the country have declined by about 80 percent since the first reported cases of bat fatalities as a result of the disease." But, while scientists know that many types of bat populations are threatened, the true impact of the population decline has yet to be seen.
Let's move on to better news and talk about how the study was conducted... The following are the details from the BBC and Josiah Maine, one of the study's co-authors from Southern Illinois University.
The main challenge of the study was to safely capture bats while allowing insects to move freely in and out of the enclosure. To allow this to happen, the research team built enclosures that measured 20 metres by 20 metres, and seven metres high. The enclosures were made of netting and suspended by cables.
"'We were only interested in excluding the bats so we constructed the exclosures so all the netting could be slid to one end so we could open them up during the day to allow birds to forage in the area,'" Maine says.
"Using the data gathered from the field study and combining with other previously published data, the team was able to extrapolate the findings to a global scale and estimate a monetary value for the ecological service provided by bats in terms of pest control in cornfields," the BBC reports.
Let's hope that bat populations begin to rise again soon (and that scientists can figure out a way to curb White-Nose Syndrome) because these creatures truly are friends to farmers, and in turn, all human beings.
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