(Editor’s note: Image provided by Nils Bouillard at Unsplash.)
By Rhiannon Johnston
Cosmos and Oxide Daisies, Sea Holly and Yarrow, Evening Primrose, Moonflowers and Honeysuckle nestle against a wood fence in Shawnee Casebolt Wells’ yard.
Wells, a registered nurse at the Bowling Green Medical Center, waters the flowers every morning and picks weeds from them every week. The flowers have grown to decorate her entire backyard.
And yet she never picks them.
She never displays them as a centerpiece on her dinner table. She never gives them to her husband as a romantic gift.
No, these flowers are reserved for her only real true love — the bat, she said.
‘A very emotional business’
Wells’ unlikely love affair has grown to take up a huge part of her life and yard, she said. But she’s not alone in her odd fondness for a creature many other people find creepy. Out of compassion for the oft-demonized animal, whose populations have been decimated by climate change and disease, a small but growing group of people have taken to offering it unlikely refuge in their yards, where some have built special bat houses and others have grown special bat gardens, with nocturnal appeal.
Bats have migrated to the Internet, too.
On Reddit, Instagram, and Twitter, users have created hashtag communities to share their love of bats. One, #Savethebat, is for those who want to share positive bat encounters.
Not everyone is enthralled with bats, of course.
“A bat is just a rat that took its time get to get its pilots license lol #batsarescary,” @KaneOakes Tweeted.
It’s probably safe to say most people try to keep bats away from their homes. Every summer — the time of the year when baby bats, called pups, are born — pest-removal businesses get flooded with calls from homeowners seeking to have the animals removed from garages or attics.
“On Aug. 1, our phones just exploded,” said one pest-control specialist. “We had customers calling with bats in the bedroom, bats in the basement. Customers were even pitching tents in their backyards because they were scared. This is a very emotional business.”
Pests controlling pests
Bats face bigger problems than being evicted from people’s homes.
They’re dying of climate change and White-Nose Syndrome, which has killed more than 90% of northern long-eared bats, little brown bats, and tri-colored bats in less than 10 years, according to a new study published in Conservation Biology.
Bat Conservation international reported that increased variation in climatic extremes raises the possibility of bats emerging from hibernation early or at a greater frequency. That would put hibernating bats at risk from depleted energy stores, and it could affect the birth and survival of pups.
People who despise bats would be among those desperately wanting them back if the animals suddenly were extinct, conservationists say. Bats help control insect populations by feasting nightly on pests such as mosquitos. Bats annually do what amounts to more than $3.7 billion worth of pest control in the U.S. And they are pollinators, according to the National Park Service.
Bats don’t deserve to be stigmatized, conservationists say. Though the Centers for Disease Control says bats are the leading cause of human rabies deaths in the United States, conservationists stress that not all bats have rabies. In fact, most don’t, the CDC reported.
Bat experts, called chiropterologists, say bats are no more likely to carry or spread disease than any other creature, despite the myth about COVID-19’s having started with bats.
With her bat garden, Wells offers bats a place where they can not only feast on their favorite bugs but also pollinate.
By helping bats, people help the world, conservationists say.