Despite scary Halloween image, bats are environmental helpers

By Catherine Colbert

Bats have historically gotten a bad rap as rabid, blood-thirsty creatures. While it’s agreed that the very thought of them conjures up vivid images of Béla Lugosi-style Dracula flicks, a growing body of research proves the mammals are beneficial to the environment in several ways.

Bats are chemical-free exterminators. A National Geographic profile on bats calls them “nature’s own bug zappers.”

The pint-size creatures also spend their time pollinating and feeding on crop-damaging bugs. “Worldwide, bats are important pollinators, dispersers of seeds, and help to control insects, including serious crop pests,” says Barbara French, a biologist and Science Officer for Bat Conservation International (BCI), located in Austin, Texas.

“Each summer, a colony of 150 big brown bats can protect farmers from up to 33 million rootworms, which are serious crop pests. Many bats feed on moths. The moths lay eggs that develop into caterpillars, like corn earworms and army worms, which feed on an amazing variety of crops,” says French. “Important agricultural crops, such as bananas, breadfruit, mangoes, cashews, dates, and figs, rely on bats for pollination or seed dispersal. And bats are critical for rain forest regeneration,” asserts French.