Blood-Sucking Bats Dying & Costing Farmers Millions - KMPH FOX 26 | Central San Joaquin Valley News Source

Blood-Sucking Bats Dying & Costing Farmers Millions

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FRESNO, Calif. (KMPH) -

This is the scene some conjure up when it comes to bats. But in reality, not all bats are bloodsuckers.

Burleigh Lockwood a.k.a. "The Bat Lady" says, "Mostly it's out of fear. People don't understand therefore they fear."

People like Lockwood actually consider them kind of cute.

She says, "People think of rabies. They think of bats getting into your hair. All those things are totally false."

It is true - bats sleep during the day, and fly at night. And yes, there is one species that feasts on blood, but the 'Vampire bat' only lives in rain forests.

Lockwood says, "All of the bats here in California are insectivores. They eat bugs."

20 different species of bats live in the Central Valley. Brown bats are the most common in our area, and they feast on the insects, that feast on our blood.

Nicole says, "One little Brown bat the size of my pinky finger will eat 600 to 1,000 mosquitoes every night."

But now bats are up against a seemingly unstoppable killer - White-Nose Syndrome has popped up in caves across the country. So far, it's wiped out more than 6 million bats in the last 6 years.

Lockwood says, "It started in upstate New York, the caves there. And every year it has progressed, first south and then west."

It has not spread West of the Mississippi - yet. But Burleigh says it's just a matter of time before bats here in the Valley start disappearing.

She says, "We're talking 90%, where the entire cave has died out. It's lethal. When it gets to them it's lethal."

Right now, Valley bats are hibernating inside caves in our local mountains. Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park is one place where bats go in the fall and winter. It's also a popular tourist destination. Signs posted outside the cave warn experienced cavers not to bring in clothing or equipment used in other caves that could be contaminated with the deadly fungus.

Lockwood says, "We're all in fear of it showing up. But there's nothing we can do about it. So all we can do is wait."

In the meantime, Burleigh says we can help keep our bat population healthy, by encouraging them to stick around. In states like Texas, growers lure bats to their fields and orchard by putting up bat houses.

In Tennessee, the Nature Conservancy built an artificial bat cave to offer the flying mammals a safe winter home. Every summer humans can go inside and clean out any lurking fungus from White-Nose Syndrome. The bat lab also creates a safe and controlled way to research ways to treat the disease.

These bats eat hundreds of thousands of insects every night. If you remove that, imagine the impact of insects that don't have predators.

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