Bats get a bad rap. People are afraid of animals that tap into our deepest fears and revulsions. Bats aren't cuddly, they fly at night, have big eyes that can’t see, and conjure creepy images of vampires who steal the blood of the unsuspecting as they sleep.
Their role in the pandemic hasn’t made them more popular. Most scientists who study the genomes of bat viruses believe the horseshoe bat played a role in transmitting the virus from an animal to a human host. People encroaching on animal habitats and handling wildlife they shouldn't touch is way more likely to cause a pandemic than the animal who was minding its own business.
But fear of bats and disease has led to violence and destruction of bat colonies worldwide. They're vital for pest control, pollination, and seed dispersal. Bats also live a long time, have highly efficient immune systems, and are social creatures that share blood with "friends" and adopt orphans.
Bats once impressed one dentist so much that he got the U.S. government to support a plan to use bats to bomb Japan during World War II.
- Jonathan Epstein is a veterinarian, disease ecologist and the Vice President for Science and Outreach for EcoHealth Alliance. His work has been published in Science, Nature, and Emerging Infectious Diseases, among others. (@epsteinjon)
- Merlin Tuttle is an ecologist, wildlife photographer, and bat conservationist. He’s the founder of Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation and a research fellow at the University of Texas. (@merlinsbats)
- Cara Giaimo is a freelance writer. She spent three years as a staff writer at Atlas Obscura, and now writes for the New York Times, Grist, Anthropocene Magazine, and elsewhere (@cjgiaimo)
Colin McEnroe, Cat Pastor, Jonathan McNicol, and Catie Talarski contributed to this show.