The greatest threat to bats is people. Habitat destruction and fear are a lethal combination for bats. In some areas, people have even been known to set fires in caves, killing thousands of roosting bats. Bats are also killed by harmful development projects such as wind turbines that are placed along migratory routes. In addition, an emerging disease called white nose syndrome is killing large numbers of hibernating bats in North America.
Climate change could impact bats as well. Over the past 15 years, 30,000 flying foxes in Australia – the largest bats in the world – have succumbed to heat stress during heat waves that push daytime temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. For bats that depend on nectar or fruits, changes in plant flowering timing could put them out of sync with their food sources. And it remains an open question as to whether the devastation of white nose syndrome is somehow linked to stress from a changing climate.
Reasons for Hope
Renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, is crucial to the future of our planet. However, ensuring that renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines, cause as little environmental harm as possible is just as important. Some wind farms have proven deadly to bats, which suffer fatalities both from collisions and also from simply passing too close to the blades, where sharp changes in air pressure cause a lung injury called “barotrauma.” For reasons that are unclear to scientists, facilities placed on Appalachian ridge tops have caused particularly high fatality rates, but multiple bat deaths have been reported at other facilities as well.
Defenders and other conservation organizations are working with federal and state agencies to look for places where wind turbines can be set up in safely by avoiding birds and bats.
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Lifespan: Most bats live longer than most mammals of their size. The longest known lifespan of a bat in the wild is 30 years for a little brown bat.