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C.W. Post Expert: No Need to Panic about Vampire Bats

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Morgan Lyle,Assistant Director of Public Relations
C.W. Post Campus,
Long Island University
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Bill SchuttBrookville, N.Y. -- Headlines like “Vampire Bat Rabies is Here” on Gawker.com could undermine the credibility of climate change science and distract attention from real problems facing American bats, according to a biologist and bat expert at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University.

What is true is that a man died in Louisiana last August after contracting rabies from a vampire bat bite, as the Centers for Disease Control reported Aug. 12, 2011. The man was bitten in southwest Mexico 10 days before coming to the United States for farm work.

It is also true that researchers think climate change could warm average temperatures in Texas and other southern states enough to allow vampire bats to expand their range northward – by 2080.

But for now, vampire bats are still confined to Mexico, Central and South America and two Caribbean islands - and suggesting that climate change is causing vampire bats to invade the U.S. makes a mockery of climate science, said Dr. Bill Schutt, associate professor of biology at C.W. Post. It also creates undue alarm about bats at a time when indigenous American bats are being devastated by a fast-spreading illness.

“By neglecting to tell the complete story (which is certainly a lot less sensational) and by neglecting to tell the story accurately, we now face increased fear about bats - at a time when up to 95 percent of all bats in the Northeast have recently died from White Nose Syndrome,” said Schutt, author of “Dark Banquet: The Curious Lives of Blood Feeding Creatures” and one of the nation’s leading bat experts. “White Nose Syndrome has already spread to 17 states and four Canadian provinces – and it shows absolutely no hint of slowing down.”

The idea that vampire bats’ native range may someday expand due to climate change was first reported in 2008 by Shahroukh Mistry and Arnufo Moreno in Bats, the magazine of Bat Conservation International. The researchers used a climate change model predicting that average temperatures could rise three to five degrees along the Texas/Mexico border by 2080, and as much as seven degrees in parts of Texas. Since winter minimum temperatures would also increase, they hypothesized that this could turn parts of Louisiana, Texas and Florida into suitable vampire bat habitats.

"That's an interesting hypothesis," Schutt said, "but the fact remains - there are no vampire bats in the United States. And while global climate change is an incredibly important issue, so too is the potential for the extinction of beneficial bat species today."

Posted 08/18/2011

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