How Bats Play a Bigger Role Than We Think


When someone speaks about bats in the United States, many tend to only think about negative things. The average American only knows what they are told in regards to what Hollywood and the media shows. Typically, bats are associated with things such as vampirism, death, and fear. They are a symbol for all things macabre during the fall season, which is why around Halloween we are constantly shown imagery of them.  

These predispositions have been pushed for ages. One of my Indigenous resource management professors from college reminded me that the way American culture views bats and other wildlife, could be due to the Western perspective/philosophy of nature and wildlife. I actually have a personal experience highlighting this theory.  My grandmother lives in an old brick house with a chimney. Prior to her conversion to a gas fireplace bats used to take refuge in both the chimney and in her attic.

Occasionally, she would have bats clinging onto her curtains in her living room and have bats flying in her bedroom. She would often swat at them with a broom, (causing them to fly around her room(s) in an oval shape) as to try and coerce the bat to fly out the front door.

Little did she know, the animal she was trying to force out of her house is essential to our local ecosystems. I recently listened to a MeatEater podcast while on a bike ride; the podcast was discussing the efforts being made by wind turbine companies and other state/federal agencies to try and protect the bats to ensure they are able to continue their tasks. Listening to the podcast inspired me to research their benefits and tell other people how they help us in the garden, Ag fields and ecosystems.  I also would like to highlight some of the threats to bat populations today, as well as what we are doing here in the United States to conserve their populations.

1. Gardening

For those who are much like myself and interested in growing as much food as possible without the use of chemicals in the form of herbicides or pesticides, bats should be one of your fondest friends. I say this because bats are known for their aggressive feeding activity at night.

A lot of bats are insectivores, meaning that they feed only on insects. They particularly favor to consume moths and other flying insects, which are the root cause of many of the issues that gardeners deal with on a day to day basis. Many of the pests that cause gardener to have frustrations in the garden are actually the larvae/caterpillars of various moths.

An example of this includes the cabbage worm, which eventually turns into the cabbage moth. If you plant any brassica, such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, etc. you most likely will see little white moths visiting your plants. They are not doing so as to take a rest, but to lay eggs.

The eggs eventually turn into little caterpillars that will slowly create clusters of holes in the leaves of your plant foliage, leaving a tattered, imperfect plant. This is a nuisance when growing kale and an annoyance if you are like me and try your best to avoid pesticides (even if organic) whenever possible.

Bats are one of the many organisms that we should welcome to our garden, which many people fear. We both must coexist in the ecosystem to reap the rewards that they have to give.

2. Agriculture

The same effects are felt in multitudes at a large enough scale in regards to farming. It has been discussed that bats are so effective at their job, that they alone could reduce the need for pesticides substantially if they were conserved for better. They already do a good job, but there is room for improvement on our part.

For industrial agriculture to truly appreciate the efforts that bats make, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service expressed a monetary value as to how much bats help reduce crop loss that was estimated in a recent study. The agency claims that in the study, researchers estimated that bats saved about $1 billion per year in corn crop damages and pesticide cost per year. Across all other forms of production they multiplied that number by three!

Beyond their incredible efficiency at hunting for insects, other types of bats also play a role in the pollination of certain agriculturally significant plants like dragon fruit, peaches, and bananas. They even have a role in pollinating that plant that makes tequila.

3. Environmental

Besides monetary value and things that only humans really care about, bats also play a good role in the environment and local plant ecology. Everyone knows that there are a variety of bats, some of which range from vampire bats, to fruit bats, etc. Well, bats not only play an important role in the pollination of plants, but they also play a role in the distribution of various plant species.

It is not super complex, but for those who are unaware, in ecology there is a correlation between higher population density of a given species and higher rates of competition for water and other resources, as well as higher rates for things such as disease and predation. Think of it almost like putting all your eggs in one basket.

That is why fruit exists. The reason why fruit is what it is today is due to millions of years of plant coevolution with various animals. It is why fruit is sweet and edible, with bright colors to get our attention. The idea is that we eat the fruit and the seed(s) then, we naturally move to another location (since the plant cannot) and through defecation, the seeds are now dispersed and “planted” in a nutrient rich pile of manure away from the parent.

This is what the bats are doing, but at a greater range. It is like how birds carry invasive honey suckles seeds far places in North America and now you have a hedge of them in your backyard despite seeing none in your area.  Dispersal is good as it prevents parent plants from competing with their offspring and reduces the chance of disease, pests, and inbreeding. This increases the chance of survival for plant offspring and increases the pant parent’s overall fitness (ability to reproduce successfully).

4. Threats to Bats

Photos of bats with white nose syndrome. From U.S. Parks and Wildlife Website.

NYSDEC/Nancy Heaslip

Despite all these amazing things that bats do for us and plants, bats face issues that are caused by our actions and a relatively new fungus that is wiping out bat colonies. The natural issues facing bats include a fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) often referred to as white-nose syndrome. Climate change is also a “natural” issue among bat species, as it is for many other organisms. The fungus is super easy to spread, especially for bats that rely on hibernating in caves in high numbers, which can wipe out entire colonies.

Many readers are well aware of the impacts of climate change and are aware of the overwhelming evidence of anthropogenic (human-made change) drivers of the issue, though climate change is a naturally occurring event (although, at a much slower rate historically). Climate change as we know is causing more extreme weather patterns such as droughts, floods, and more severe, unpredictable storms. This is a big concern for various populations/species of bats.   

Beyond the relatively natural drivers, there are things that we are doing that are hurting bat numbers. One being the removal and destruction of bat habitat as humans are expanding and converting areas from forests/caves to farms/ranch land, and other mining/business operations to keep up with growing global populations around the world, as well as economic demand.

Bats are also being exposed to high amounts of pollution via both land, and water from agricultural applications of pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers. Since bats are nocturnal they also face issues with light pollution. As I mentioned earlier, the construction of wind turbines is also killing off bats due to bats running into the obstacles.

5. Conservation Attempts

Government agencies and private organizations are working hard to help take the stress off of our bat allies. Most of the conservation efforts seem to be geared towards finding cures for the fungus that is impacting the bats first, though researchers are also doing banding experiments to try and understand the ranges and behavior patterns of bats. It is important to note that 15 bat species are recognized as federally endangered here in the U.S., and the research being made is also to make sure that more bat species are in good standing population health.

Average people are also making an attempt to help bats, so don’t feel like there is nothing you can do! People are encouraged to talk about bats and all the cool stuff they do for us (aka break the cultural stigma)! Turn off and reduce unnecessary lights around your house. Don’t use pesticides in or around your house/lawn. Leave out clean, freshwater for wildlife and consider leaving natural dead standing trees/wood (if it is not a safety concern), or build a bat box.


After listening to that MeatEater podcast, I now have a different perspective of bats. I was previously indifferent to their existence and all the gifts that they give us. I am now thankful for all that they do in helping me keep up in the garden, all the food that they save in the ag fields, as well as the reduced need for pesticide use. They help strengthen plant populations and our ecosystems through dispersal. The list can go on and on.

It is our job to recognize that they are struggling as an animal. They truly need our help right now and we can help out at home and through our daily actions. We don’t need to be wildlife biologists to have an impact!

Work Cited

Celly, Courtney.“Bats Are One of the Most Important Misunderstood Animals: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.” FWS.Gov, 5 Aug. 2023,,United%20States%20corn%20industry%20alone.


Blog Thumbnail Image Credit: Photo by Igor Ribeiro:

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