Something about the bat die-offs is really freaking me out. It’s the “90-97%” death rate, in colonies of thousands. It’s happening in caves in NY and Vermont. First noticed last winter in an isolated instance, it’s being found with increasing frequency in caves in the Northeast.
Why is this affecting me so much? Perhaps because I fell in love with bats years ago, working on a reference work on mammals — the many faces of bats are so astonishing. Perhaps it’s because they eat half their weight in insects every night, an amazing feat of evening echolocation that keeps farmers’ fields free from certain moths and thus their voracious larvae, removes a thousand mosquitos a night per bat. Or it’s that the cause of death is starvation, because their hibernation systems aren’t working right, and they’re agitatedly using up their fat stores too fast; they’re found as gaunt sacks of bones, outside the caves, as well as inside.
Or it’s because they’re such a joy to watch in the twilight sky, and I’ll miss them.
But in the end I’m freaked mostly by what I was thinking on the way into work: the fungal growth around the bats’ noses are indicative of weak immune systems, as well as lack of colonial grooming. What would make an entire colony’s immune systems weak? Well, perhaps some of the biome-breach realities that we’ve been seeing, where chemicals move up the food chain, disrupt endocrine systems, and cause strange immune system responses.
Picture this: some delectable insect that apple growers (let’s say) keep at bay with chemicals — a fly, a moth, or something like that — has evolved a resistance to that chemical. That means that the fly doesn’t drop to the ground dead (like it used to do), but rather flies around, perhaps ill, but not dead. It becomes ideal bat-food — a slow-moving prey without its wits about it.
Now, the top predator of the winged areas is ingesting thousands of these insects, nightly. Like swordfish, and tuna, and killer whales in the ocean, the chemicals concentrate in the predator (or scavenger). This may have been going on for the last couple years, and just now has built up to toxic levels.
Or, the late winter (as one bat-watcher noted) in the region resulted in the bats flying too late in the year, after the insects had disappeared; they went to bed hungry, and are waking up too early, hungry, emaciated, and ill.
I dearly hope that there’s a specific cause that can be identified, rather than remain the mystery that the bee colony collapse disorder is currently.
I fear we are reaching tipping points of toxicity in our biospheres, and it scares the hell out of me.