“Where have all the bats gone?”

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BATS ARE THE ONLY mammals in Barbados that were not brought here by humans. The current population of furry winged Bajans is mostly of the molossus family. They would have reached Barbados by island-hopping from South America perhaps helped onward by storms.

We know little, and seem to care even less about them, but these ugly little fellows can turn out to be our vital ally in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases.

Being principally insectivorous, our bats feed on moths, houseflies, beetles, flying ants . . . and yes, mosquitoes.

According to one study, bats burn so many calories in their flying effort that they literally have to “inhale mosquitoes indiscriminately” to keep themselves nourished. Extremely agile predators, bats can eat their weight in insects every night.

Up to recently, if you stood outdoors at dusk you would see them countless in number against the backdrop of the sky, silently flitting haphazardly overhead.

But in the last two years or so, something in their environment seems to have caused them either to change their predilection for insects – or to die out. We’ve noticed fewer and fewer of them, certainly in Holetown.

Tragically yesterday there were none . . . . Has anyone else noticed this phenomenon? Furthermore, is anyone noticing, particularly at the Vector Control Unit, that we have an exceptionally heavy infestation of mosquitoes this year?

Is there a connection between this veritable plague of mosquitoes and the disappearance of their voracious natural predators?

Molossus bats don’t only possess a remarkable ability to control insects. Their fruit-eating cousins help us otherwise by pollinating plants and dispersing seeds, thereby promoting the island’s biodiversity.

Something is threatening the survival of these little ancient inhabitants of Barbados, and we should address the causes without delay. I propose that we should seriously consider importing and releasing beneficial kindred bat species to help revitalise the extinguishing population. We have to pay more attention to nature’s early signals and become proactive collaborators with her in creative ways.

– LEE FARNUM-BADLEY