April 2006, Volume 4, Issue 4

Bats in the News

Starving Bats in California

A long spell of inclement weather seems to have wreaked havoc on California’s bats, reports the Sacramento Bee. “Emaciated and seemingly exhausted, bats are landing in yards around Northern California, possibly starving as a consequence of the cold, wet spring,” reporter Edie Lay wrote on April 23.

Dharma Webber, founder of the California Native Bat Conservancy, told the newspaper that weather reduced the number of flying insects on which the bats depend. All bat species found in the Sacramento area feed on flying insects, the Bee said. Although there is no scientific data to confirm Webber’s grim assessment, she said the bats look like starving animals: “You can see their ribs, their backbones, and (the area) where the intestine and the stomach are is completely sunk through to the back.”
The Bee said Webber worries that fear of rabies could cause people to “freak out” if they find a sick bat. She urges residents to call for help rather than killing the animal. And she cautioned: Do not handle bats or any other wild animal.
Although bats, like other mammals, can contract rabies, less than one-half of one percent are infected, and bat-related cases of human rabies are extremely rare.
The newspaper reports that a number of bat experts and entomologists agree that the usual springtime proliferation of insects is delayed this season, and bats could be suffering as a result.
The Bee also noted that biologist Mark Brigham, a biologist at the University of Regina in Canada documented problems in bats during the exceptionally rainy summer of 1990 in a desert region of British Columbia. Brigham noted that only about 20 percent of female bats studied reproduced that year, Brigham said. Researchers also found birds dead of starvation.
By the time the rains ended and the insect population rebounded during the summer, it was too late for the bats. “It would take a number of years for the population to recover,” Brigham told the newspaper.

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