SOS: Bats Gone Missing!

Eco Hvar is not alone in being worried that bats are increasingly rare on Hvar Island.

Pipistrellus nathusii Pipistrellus nathusii Croatian Natural History Museum / Hrvatski prirodoslovni muzej

Once, not so long ago, they were plentiful. During the balmy summer evenings they would stream around any source of light, big or small, in the hunt for insects to feed on. I remember them milling purposefully around from my earliest days in Pitve over 25 years ago. In September 1993 there was one sleeping peacefully hanging from a beam in the wine-cellar. A friend remarked that having a bat on one's premises brought good luck to the house. This optimistic belief is not unique to Dalmatia. In traditional Chinese culture bats represent good fortune and blessings.

Colony, pipistrelli kuhlii. Photo courtesy of the Croatian Natural History Museum

In the last few years, bats have been less and less visible. In Pitve in 2016 I saw no more than a handful, and people in other places around the island have also reported seeing very few, if any bats, where once they were numerous.

Bats belong to the order Chiroptera, and are the only mammals capable of flying. There are over 1100 different types of bat in the world, making them the second largest group of mammals, after rodents. In Croatia there are 35 types, belonging to eleven families. Most of them feed on insects, while one, the rare giant noctule bat (Nyctalus lasiopterus) sometimes also catches smaller birds, while the long-fingered bat (Myotis capaccinii) can catch small fish.

Nyctalus noctula. Photo courtesy of the Croatian Natural History Museum

In Croatia Dr. Igor Pavlinić, Custodian of the Croatian Natural History Museum in Zagreb, has been involved in the study and protection of bats for many years. He is conducting a long-term project monitoring a colony of bats at Šćuza, including proposals for their protection. He has demonstrated how bats not only make their homes in woodlands, but also in the most diverse of places, from caverns, caves, abandoned mines and gaps in stones (mostly for winter hibernation), to loft spaces in houses and churches, chimneys, as well as spaces in the walls of bridges. Several colonies on Hvar bore this out. For example, over many years European free-tailed bats (Tadarida teniotis) nested in the belfry of the Church of Our Lady of Health above Jelsa. Sadly, following lengthy renovation works in the past few years, the bats disappeared and never returned.

Our Lady of Health, Jelsa, once a haven for bats. Photo Mirko Crnčević

Bats are said to be an 'index of health' in any given place. They do a good job, actually an essential service for human comfort. One bat can devour between 500 and 1,000 mosquitoes per hour; in the course if a night, it can consume prey equalling about one third of its body mass. Is it a coincidence that as bat numbers have fallen over the last few years, mosquitoes have become more and more of a problem, despite ever-fiercer desperate attempts to eradicate them with chemical poison sprays?

Bats are among the oldest surviving mammals, whose development probably began at the time when dinosaurs dominated the world. The evolution of bats gives rise to some of the most intriguing questions within the history of the evolution of today's mammals. The only thing the majority of scientists agree on is that the bat's early ancestor was a type of nocturnal insect-eating mammal which lived in trees. The latest molecular research has shown that the ape (homininoidea) arose in a later development from a common ancestor, providing a link to humans.

Eptesicus serotinus. Photo courtesy of the Croatian Natural History Museum

Eptesicus serotinus. Photo courtesy of the Croatian Natural History Museum

The decline of bats on Hvar is, sadly, not unique. Bats are under threat around the globe, some types are close to extinction. The Croatian State Institute for Nature Protection identifies several factors as potential causes of bat decline (brochure in Croatian):

1. LOSS OF HABITAT, including excessive felling of old established trees; adapting caves as tourist attractions; flooding of caves; renovation of old buildings without due care for bats' needs

2. LOSS OF NATURAL HUNTING GROUNDS

3. POISONOUS CHEMICAL TREATMENTS OF WOODEN RAFTERS

4. PESTICIDE USE

5. REDUCTION OF INSECTS (often through use of insecticides, and industrial-scale agriculture)

6. TOURISM IN CAVES

7. DISRUPTION TO NESTS AND WINTER COLONIES

8. WINDFARMS

9. DRYING UP OF SURFACE WATERS

10. POLLUTION OF WATER SOURCES

A monograph by I. Pavlinić published by the Natural History-Mathematics Faculty at the University of Zagreb places the blame for the bat decline squarely on inappropriate, careless human activity (article in Croatian).

'Man's activites to blame for bat decline'

Bats are strictly protected in Croatia, as in other European countries. According to the Law on the Protection of Nature (Zakon o zaštiti prirode - in Croatian), there are fines up to 200,000 kunas for disturbing, capturing, wounding or killing bats, and for damaging or destroying their habitats. There is also a separate fine of 1,000 to 4,000 kunas for each killed bat. Apart from the national law, since 2000 Croatia has also been party to the international agreement for the protection and conservation of European bats, entitled UNEP / EUROBATS. In the Sixth National Report on ther Implementation of the Agreement covering 2010 to 2014, the measures being undertaken in Croatia to monitor and protect bats were described. Most of the activity is on the mainland. Toxic timber treatments were given as a subject of special concern, but it seems there has been little specific study on the effects of pesticide use.

A single pipistrellus kuhlii. Photo courtesy of the Croatian Natural History Museum

The law takes into account deliberate and wilful damage caused to bats, but there is little in the way of an adequate system of control to prevent the harm done through pesticide use, building works and renovations, tourist developments and tree-felling. Bats can live for over 30 years, but they reproduce slowly, so any deaths of young bats in a colony causes a rapid decline in numbers. Protection measures are urgently needed. Every local council should initiate projects to provide adequate habitats for bats. Youngsters should be encouraged to observe bats and record their numbers, to raise awareness at local level.

We need these important and fascinating creatures. Their insect-eating capacities are an invaluable service to human health. With due effort and care, we can re-create the conditions which allow bats to thrive. They will repay the favour with infinite interest.

© Mirko Crnčević and Vivian Grisogono 2017

A Croatian version of this article by Mirko Crnčević was published in the magazine 'Dobra Kob', issue 184, January 2017, pp 52-55

You are here: Home Nature Watch SOS: Bats Gone Missing!

Eco Environment News feeds

  • Senior climate figures welcome move after Conservative government largely left the role to junior ministers

    Ed Miliband is to take personal control of the UK’s negotiations at vital international climate talks, in stark contrast to his Tory predecessors.

    The energy security and net zero secretary will attend Cop29, this year’s UN climate summit, in Azerbaijan this November to head the UK’s delegation and meet political leaders from around the world.

    Continue reading...

  • Electric vehicles are ‘batteries on wheels’ that can put energy back into the National Grid when solar panels and windfarms do not provide much power

    Electric cars make some people afraid of the dark. While the batteries produce much less carbon, they require much more electricity to run. This has prompted ominous warnings that Great Britain and other wealthy countries set on banning new petrol and diesel cars risk plunging their populations into darkness.

    In recent months British net zero-sceptical newspapers have warned that the shift to EVs would “risk overwhelming the grid, and threaten catastrophic blackouts” when intermittent sun and wind fail to provide the necessary power. Another article claimed: “It won’t take an enemy power to put us all in the dark – just energy customers doing normal things on a normal winter’s evening.”

    Continue reading...

  • Site in Pembrokeshire currently grazed by sheep will be planted with a range of species and reconnect to Celtic past

    A lost piece of Celtic rainforest in the far south-west of Wales is to be restored to its ancient glory, weaving around standing stones and an abandoned, tumbling-down farmhouse with a waterwheel.

    The 59-hectare (146-acre) site in Pembrokeshire will be planted with species such as oak, small-leaf lime and wild service (Sorbus torminalis) and should support an abundance of mosses, liverworts, lichens and ferns as well as providing a home for animals and other plant life.

    Continue reading...

  • Tess, a 40-year-old female at Houston zoo, has been given a trial mRNA vaccine to help combat the virus, a leading killer of calves in captivity

    An Asian elephant at Houston zoo in the US has received the first mRNA vaccine against herpes, which is the leading killer of Asian elephants calves in captivity.

    Tess, a 40-year-old Asian elephant, was injected with the trial vaccine at the Texas zoo in June, after a spate of deaths in juveniles in zoos around the world from the elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV).

    Continue reading...

  • Ravenscraig, North Lanarkshire: A place once of coke ovens and cooling towers is now enlivened with orchids and stonecrop, and swards of grasses

    I’m walking through Ravenscraig, once the site of the largest steelworks in Europe, which was closed and demolished more than 30 years ago. While there has been some redevelopment on its fringes, the bulk of the site has been left. The skylarks that soar upwards to become nothing but song will look down on the circles where once were cooling towers and gas towers, the rectangular templates of the buildings, strip mills and coke ovens, and roads leading to them, edges now softened and fringed with birch and willow.

    From a distance, the oxeye daisies intermingling with the lush grasses look like a smattering of snow; close up, thick swards of grass are peppered with St John’s wort, yellow rattle, tufted and yellow vetch, and red clover – little pings of colour amid the subtle pinks, purples and greens of the grasses.

    Continue reading...

  • Ed Miliband sets new rules on solar panels and approves three giant solar farms as Labour seeks to end years of Tory inaction

    Keir Starmer’s Labour government unveils plans for a “rooftop revolution” today that will see millions more homes fitted with solar panels in order to bring down domestic energy bills and tackle the climate crisis.

    The energy secretary, Ed Miliband, also took the hugely controversial decision this weekend to approve three massive solar farms in the east of England that had been blocked by Tory ministers.

    Continue reading...

  • It’s not entirely clear if fox numbers are on the rise in urban areas, but research shows they are learning to avoid hazards such as dogs and poisonous baits

    Alex Abbey’s security camera captured something moving through an alley behind his home in Sydney’s eastern suburbs a few weeks ago. When he watched the 2am footage the next day, he was surprised to see a red fox on the screen.

    “It’s unusual. It’s the first time I have seen one in Potts Point,” he says.

    Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

    Continue reading...

  • Initiative aims to coax visitors and local people into air-conditioned venues during sweltering summer afternoons

    A little after 3pm on a weekday afternoon, the footsteps and voices that echoed along the hallowed halls of the Prado were silenced by a series of percussive detonations that could have been mistaken for an indoor fireworks display.

    The source of the disruption, however, was not a vandal or a protester. Watched over by the eight muses for whom the Madrid museum’s Sala de las Musas is named, a tall, famous and angular flamenco dancer called El Yiyo was clicking, clapping, stomping and pirouetting before a rapt, grateful and slightly bemused audience. A few feet away sat the renowned guitarist Rafael Andújar, who had ambled into the sala a few moments earlier, taken his seat and begun to fill the air with notes.

    Continue reading...

  • A British geneticist scoured the globe for diverse grains in the 1920s. His research could be vital as the climate changes

    A hundred years ago, the plant scientist Arthur Watkins launched a remarkable project. He began collecting samples of wheat from all over the globe, nagging consuls and business agents across the British empire and beyond to supply him with grain from local markets.

    His persistence was exceptional and, a century later, it is about to reap dramatic results. A UK-Chinese collaboration has sequenced the DNA of all the 827 kinds of wheat, assembled by Watkins, that have been nurtured at the John Innes Centre near Norwich for most of the past century.

    Continue reading...

  • Such schemes have their critics but the technology, which has been known for a century, could help many nations reach net zero

    Snowy Hydro’s beleaguered tunnel boring machine, Florence, seems to be regularly stuck between soft rock and a hard place.

    But that has not deterred enthusiasts for pumped hydro as a key part of Australia’s transition off fossil fuels.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds

  • The government of Indonesia announced this week a deal to redirect more than US$ 35 million it owes to the United States into the conservation of coral reefs.

  • In the semi-arid shrubland of Namaqualand, dry conditions have long been a cycle of life. But climate change is now slowly transforming this once-thriving biodiversity hotspot, making life challenging for wildlife and the shepherds who have farmed here for centuries.

  • Half the world’s population lives in areas with exposure to dengue fever. Parts of the United States may soon join them.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning to doctors last week about an increased risk of dengue, a mosquito-borne virus most prevalent in tropical climates. Countries in the Americas have already reported more than 9.7 million cases this year — twice as many as were reported in the region all last year — raising alarm bells about the prospect for spread in the southern continental United States and increased transmission in places like Puerto Rico.

    This notice from the CDC comes in the wake of a recent heat wave that smothered much of the eastern United States. The timing offers a foreboding glimpse of a future in which climatic change enables diseases to spread into new environments.

    “We're seeing a lot of spread of mosquito-borne viruses, such as dengue, associated with climate change, so none of this is surprising,” said Neil Vora, an epidemiologist and physician at Conservation International. “We are creating the climatic conditions for these things to happen.”

    But how, exactly, are the two related?

    On a warming planet, disease vectors like mosquitoes and ticks can thrive in new environments, and disease transmission seasons may become longer as conditions change. The impact could be profound: A 2019 study, referencing warming based on modeling from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, projected an additional 2 billion people would face risk of dengue exposure by 2080.

    And it won’t just be dengue.

    “The thing is, these viruses are going to surprise us time and time again,” Vora said. “Dengue is scary. But what else is out there?”

    Last year, for example, Florida and Texas discovered eight cases of locally acquired malaria, the first such cases in the United States in two decades, leaving physicians perplexed. In parts of South America, including Brazil, scientists are worried about the spread of Oropouche virus, which had been restricted largely to low-population areas in the Amazon.

    Preventing these outbreaks — dengue, Zika, malaria or others — will hinge on reversing climate change. Vora says public health is focused on response rather than prevention, and he delivered a TED Talk last year about how reducing deforestation can help fend off future pandemics.

    “Prevention is about going upstream and addressing climate change itself,” Vora said. “We need to walk and chew gum at the same time. In other words, we have to invest in both prevention of diseases, such as through mitigating climate change through nature-based solutions and phasing out fossil fuels — while, at the same time, investing in response capabilities. The stakes are too high to keep implementing incomplete solutions.

    “The beauty of investing in nature for prevention of disease is that it is inherently equitable. Everyone benefits everywhere, particularly people in the most resource-limited settings. And these measures are agnostic to the pathogen. When you mitigate climate change, threats downstream get mitigated, too.”


    Further reading:


    Max Marcovitch is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Also, please consider supporting our critical work

  • Human and elephant conflict is on the rise, largely because of elephants' diminishing habitat. Experts say that protecting the species requires understanding and supporting rural communities that share spaces with them.

  • Africa’s pastoralists have long raised their livestock to mimic the rhythms of nature. Reviving their way of life is key to restoring grasslands.

  • Nearly a third of fishing lines are lost or discarded at sea. This so-called “ghost gear” — along with nets and traps — is deadly for marine animals. One man is on a mission to clean it up, net by net.

  • Brutal heat waves swept across the Southern Hemisphere earlier this year. Now it’s the Northern Hemisphere’s turn. Yet humanity continues to actively destroy one of its best allies against the heat: forests.

  • In eastern California, a Great Basin bristlecone pine known as Methuselah has long been considered Earth’s oldest living thing. But in Chile, a new challenger has emerged that could be 500 years older than the reigning champ.

  • A landmark treaty to protect the world’s oceans could go into effect soon — but experts argue it must consider climate change if it is going to succeed.

  • The ocean feeds us, regulates our climate and sustains economies. Yet numerous threats are devastating the health of marine ecosystems. In honor of World Oceans Day, we take a dive into efforts that are charting anew course for our oceans.