They may be synonymous with Halloween because of their spooky appearance, but bats play a critical role in the health and economy of Arkansas. Help the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission celebrate Bat Week this week in honor of all the benefits bats bring.


The Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center will host a special program about Arkansas bats in an online meeting at 6:30 p.m., Thursday., on the center’s Facebook page.


There are more than 1,400 species of bats throughout the world, except areas of extreme drought and extreme cold. Bats play an important role in ridding areas of insects that can harm crops and spread disease. A single bat can eat up to its weight in insects each night, helping farmers protect their hard work. They also play a role in some areas as pollinators, most notably in Mexico, where they are a major pollinator of agave flowers.


Many bats are in decline worldwide — about 24% of bats are considered critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable according to the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. Out of the 16 bat species found in Arkansas, there are three federally endangered bats: the Ozark big-eared bat, the Indiana bat and the gray bat. A fourth species, the northern long-eared bat, is federally threatened.


A serious ongoing threat to bats is in the form of a fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome (WNS). First documented in a New York cave, WNS has killed millions of bats across the United States. Bats become infected with this fungus, which can be seen on their muzzle and other portions of their bodies. The fungus impacts the immune system of the bats during their hibernation period, causing them to burn valuable fat stores during their dormant period. They then face the choice of venturing out in winter when food is not available or withering away in the roost, both of which spell certain doom.


WNS was first found in Arkansas in 2012 and is now present in at least 15 counties in the state. Several species such as the little brown bat and tricolored bat have seen their populations decline in the state by 90% or more. There is no known cure, but scientists around the world are studying how the disease spreads and what can be done to control it. Many caves in Arkansas are closed to entry because the fungus can be transmitted from one cave to another through the clothing and equipment people use when caving.


Visit www.batweek.org to learn more about how bats are a part of other’s daily lives and get ideas for some activities that will help with bat conservation and awareness.