What’s your favorite animal? Mine has always been the orca whale, but really, all whales are awesome. I hoped to study whales, but I got a bit sidetracked when I found myself clutching a squeaking little brown bat two years ago while doing biology research. I realized all of the reasons I loved whales perfectly described bats as well, but I had never known bats to be anything greater than their stereotypes. In reality, bats are intelligent, incredibly social mammals. They’re highly evolved for their environments, but like whales, they don’t quite fit in at first glance. Whales are mammals in a sea of fish, and bats are mammals in a sky of birds.
But while whales get shaped into cakes (lookin' at you, Fudgie the Whale), bats are shrouded in myths of vampirism and rabidity. Additionally, while most populations of cetaceans are doing well or recovering (I say “most” because there is definitely work to do!), many bat populations around the world are declining. North American little brown bats alone are dying at unprecedented rates from a yucky fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome, which kills between 75% and 99% of each roost it hits. Remember that the devastating Black Death killed a comparatively smaller 60% of Europe’s inhabitants! Since bats are estimated to be worth up to $50 billion dollars per year to U.S. agricultural industries for their pest control services, the rapid spread of this disease is mind-bogglingly freaky for bats and the millions of humans who often unknowingly depend on them.
While we definitely should strive to protect charismatic, popular creatures like whales, so many species are struggling without a voice. How can we solve this? I wish I knew! But I invite you to think of your least favorite animal - maybe that’s a bat, a spider, a lizard, or a shark - and aim to learn a new fact about it every day for a week. What ecological services does it provide? How does it communicate? How has its species evolved? Maybe I’m too idealistic, but I think the best way to start pursuing a more rounded approach to conservation is to find ways to get excited about the animals we might not be jazzed about ordinarily because of how we've been conditioned to perceive them.
In a similar vein, I’m hoping to spend time in the near future traveling to different communities around the world (on a very low budget) that react to bats across a wide spectrum of responses - from adoration and interest to disgust and fear. I love writing songs and making sound art, so I hope to incorporate the calls of the world’s bats into my songs to reframe them as intelligent musicians instead of gross pests. If you have any ideas of who to connect with, where to go, or anything you think might be even remotely related to this, I’d LOVE to hear them!
Thanks for reading this! Wishing you all a batty day and sending lots of hope for a better, brighter 2017.