Smithsonian magazine has an interesting, albeit disturbing, article on bats in their most recent issue. Disturbing not in an “Eek, bats are creepy!” kind of way, but in an ecological crises sense. Scientists are finding more and more bats infested with the spores of the fungus Geomyces destructans, which is decimating bat populations in the Northeastern part of the United States. The fungus is causing a disease called white-nose syndrome, which has killed more than a million bats in the past four years. Because the fungus thrives in cooler temperatures, it attacks bats while they hibernate for the winter, when their immune systems are shut down. Biologists are in a scramble to find out what is causing this disease and how to mitigate it and save the bat population.

So why should you care? Bats get a bad rap because of their associations with folktales, like vampires. But in truth, bats are tremendously beneficial to humans and the ecosystems where they live and hunt. Example: one million bats (the number already dead because of white-nose syndrome) consume as many as 700 tons of insects, many of them pests to farmers, per year. Fewer bats means more mosquitoes, aphids and the like. Which in turn could mean more crop failures. This disease was discovered in 2007 in New York state, but has been moving further every year out into other states. It might just be a matter of time (and not very long at that) before it gets to California.

Got to Smithsonian.com/bats to watch a video of caves where bats emerge by the thousands.

Lisa, who like bats and other mammals