Photo worth seeing: Bats protect crops in agriculture

Bat of the species Gray Long-eared
The gray long-eared bat is one of the native bat species on the Portuguese island of Madeira. © Adrià López-Baucells

Infestation of crops by pests such as insects is an ongoing problem for farmers. To combat pests, they often use plant protection products, which, however, can also harm the plants themselves or people. A gentler alternative to protection against pests is natural predators.

Researchers at the University of Oxford have now investigated whether bats are also suitable for this. To do this, they analyzed the feeding behavior of bats on the Portuguese island of Madeira – including the gray long-eared bat, which can be seen in the photo. The animal gets its name from its elongated gray-brown ears, which can be three to four centimeters long. This means they are only slightly shorter than the length of the animal’s head and torso, which is between four and six centimeters for an adult animal.

As it turns out, this long-eared bat can actually make an important contribution to the ecosystem and to agriculture. The diet of the gray long-eared bat and the other two native bat species examined includes various insects, including plant pests. The researchers found almost 40 percent of potential or already confirmed agricultural and forestry pests in the animals’ feces. These pests attack various crops and thus pose a danger to the harvest. The pests eaten by bats include, for example, the seed owl, which attacks various vegetables and grains. The banana shoot borer, which targets banana trees, is also part of the diet of the bats studied.

By eating these insects, the bats help secure various crops. In order to attract the animals to their fields as crop protectors, farmers can hang bat boxes there. These offer the bats a place to live and raise their young. This benefits both bats and agriculture.

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