Leave bats, in particular, the hell alone

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

David Quammen’s 2012 book Spillover charts the ecology and spread of “zoonoses,” diseases transmitted between animals and humans, and makes these four points:

Prepare for the worst, while hoping for the best.

Zoonotic spillovers will keep coming, as long as we drag wild animals to us and split them open.

A tropical forest, with its vast diversity of visible creatures and microbes, is like a beautiful old barn: knock it over with a bulldozer and viruses will rise in the air like dust.

Leave bats, in particular, the hell alone.


  1. Handle says:

    Kill all the bats! Scourge of humanity, bringers of plagues, murderers of millions! Kill All The Bats.

  2. Graham says:

    Really? Given their repeated role in the particularly dangerous and viralicious ecosystem of South China, I would counsel a serious program of analysis of their role in the ecosystem, how necessary they really are, with a view to exterminating them if we can get away with it.

    I am above average sympathetic to furry mammalian cousins, and their iconic role in comic book vigilantism is well known to me. But first the vampirism, and now this. How much provocation must I take?

  3. Graham says:

    Mosquitos, too, same terms of study.

    Bees, we need more of, and they pretty much mind their business and just buzz around. I have no quarrel with them if they leave me alone.

    Even nasty creatures like wasps, hornets. Kill them as needed locally, but no need to wipe them out.

    Mosquitos, f’ ‘em. Just once I’ve managed to kill one by grabbing and closing my hand really fast. The primeval pride I felt was considerable, especially for a man with then 48 year old reflexes.

  4. N.N. says:

    Since we’re up for animal genocide, permit me to add rats to the list.

  5. Cleanthes says:

    Don’t kill bats before mosquitoes. I bike in a a Florida park. 9 months of the year it’s too hot during the day, so I try to go 45 minutes before dawn. If I stop, mosquitoes attack. I usually see bats circling the large swampy pond, chowing down on the damn mosquitoes. I can only imagine how many bugs would bug me without the bats.

  6. Kirk says:

    I’ve got a better suggestion: Kill all the humans eating bats and the other animals that aren’t on the normal diet.

    The root problem isn’t the animal, but our freaking insistence on including them in our diets for those humans in Africa and China. It’s damn near karmic punishment for eating bushmeat and all the other poor creatures that the Asians go in for. Pure, unadulterated cruelty is the norm across a lot of Asia, where the diner wants their meat from terrified animals on the theory that it tenderizes the meat. You don’t want to know what I had to watch at a Korean dog farm, back in the day. I strongly suspect that if my guys and I had had live ammo, there would have been a major “incident” that needed to be dealt with by the embassy, because we’d have cheerfully have shot the worthless f**ks running that place.

    Most of the zoonosis problems come from either desperation (somewhat rare, but genuinely there…) or just sheer bloody-minded superstition and cruel desire for the exotic. Rare animals are a delicacy, and that’s where those “wet markets” come from. In terms of vectors? LOL… Holy Mary, mother of God… Those damn hellholes are just nightmares. Like I said, it’s damn near divine justice that this flu came out of one, because those poor animals… I’ve got no problems eating meat, but I’ll be damned if what I eat is going to suffer by my design, and that’s absolutely what is going on in those markets–Deliberate suffering inflicted unthinkingly on the animals in them. Frankly, I think China deserves everything it is getting.

  7. Faze says:

    Bats don’t actually eat mosquitoes. There isn’t much meat on a mosquito, so if you’re a bat, you’re going to hunt one of the trillion and one other, larger insect species out there.

    The reason people believe that bats are major eaters of mosquitos, dates back to old study where some scientists put a bunch of bats into a room filled with mosquitos, and counted how many they ate, later reporting that bats were capable of eating tremendous numbers of mosquitos, and giving bats the reputation of being ferocious mosquito killers.

    Much later, someone figured out that in this experiment, mosquitoes were the only item on the menu – so of course the bats ate a lot ‘em. Given any other option, they would have let the mosquitos be.

  8. Lu An Li says:

    Bats are a known carrier of the HIV virus. Eating bush meat what it is called allowed the virus to pass from the bats to humans in Africa. So it is suspected. But then clearing the rain forest period just creates conditions for all sorts of germ agents to be released the human species has not been exposed to.

    Portions of sub-Saharan Africa now thought to be pristine jungle were once farm land. Something came out of the jungle and wiped the farming population out.

  9. Graham says:

    I like it when discussion moves rapidly past the premise and gets down to the preferred sequence of events.

  10. Graham says:

    Well, I want to be all culturally sensitive as well as aware of all the vegetarians and vegans out there who would point out, respectively, that “normal” diet does vary a bit across cultures and ecosystems, and that there is some cruelty involved in animal eating of any kind.

    And I even get all that, though not to the point of madness.

    Even allowing for cultural variations, and variation between settled and hunter societies that still exists to a degree, a good chunk of the exotic meat diet in any region is, as Kirk gets at, understood to be exotic even in that place and that’s part of the attraction.

    That can all be put a stop to over time with some effort and wilful disregard of the sillier progressive tropes. Like, it’s racist to stop the Chinese eating bats when Americans eat deer, or boar, or what have you. Yeah. When those things become holding tanks for a million transferable viruses that spread like wildfire we can talk about that. When they get butchered and served in the most unsanitary conditions this side of a stone age cave, if even that, we can talk about that. And no, I don;t think those hunted animals are as far off the normal diet anyway. The Chinese eat deer and boar equivalents too.

    And while I would endorse any regime of animal husbandry and slaughter that improves and maintains healthy and decent conditions for the creatures and doesn’t too radically increase the price, I’m not sold that the animal variants whose whole existence depends on us is quite the same thing as slaughtering bats or primates in the wild. Or hunting bear penises, or whatever.

    Mileage seems to vary on these points.

  11. Lucklucky says:

    We don’t know how nature works. What if you idiots loose a solution to another virus in a bat?

    Can you see all implications? Are you God?

  12. Kirk says:

    Lucklucky, I think the point is more that we’ve already gone through all the varied issues there are for our main domestic agricultural species. That’s a price we’ve already paid; the limited value to be gained by adding in things like pangolin and exotic bats are not worth the price we’d have to pay to bring them in under general domestication. And, it’s not at all needful–You can get all the protein you need from the domestic animals we have, which have carefully been selected and bred for thousands of years to provide that for us.

    The other thing a lot of people don’t “get” about Asian exotic meats is that there’s a huge component of just outright insanely delivered cruelty to it all. Part of the reason that my guys and I wanted to murder that set of Koreans who were farming those dogs was the way they went about doing the slaughter–The premium meat comes from animals that have basically been tortured before being killed. They’d have them caught and hung by the hind legs, beating them, before cutting their throats. As one of my KATUSA guys explained to me, the folklore had it that the meat from a terrified animal was more tender and had some sort of medicinal value from the stress hormones in it.

    Gotta give Corporal Kang and the guys due, though–They were either genuinely horrified to see where the dog meat “came from”, or they picked up on the reaction it was getting from the rest of the unit who were American, and were smart enough to put in an Oscar-worthy performance to show they were right there with us. Most of those guys were city boys, though, and I don’t think they had a really good handle on where food came from.

  13. Lucklucky says:

    What you talking about? You defending playing God exterminating animals while it is impossible to know if they would be helpful in the future or what impact they have in planet?

    Besides coronavírus is a type of the vírus that increases our immunity since it is not particularly destructive. It is possible that the immunity of this episode will protect us in the future from something else.

  14. Graham says:

    For my part, this medium doesn’t convey the tongue in cheek aspect of things very well, plainly.

    On that level, I merely observe that we have accidentally exterminated plenty of species one way or another, many of which I don’t miss but some inoffensive or even pleasant to me, and endangered others. It is offensive on that level that species that are such problems and so intrinsically undesirable should continue to exist when whales, dolphins, frogs or even bees are imperilled. If we are going to wipe out animals, let’s wipe out the ones that pose problems.

    Naturally, and as suggested by my initial “I would counsel a serious program of analysis of their role in the ecosystem, how necessary they really are, with a view to exterminating them if we can get away with it”, I have set a very high scientific bar to be passed before any campaign of extermination could begin. One I don’t really expect to ever be met.

    Though we have set out to exterminate other species locally, in the past.

    Every time I see a gloriously restored “wetland” praised in the media for its contribution to the ecology, I rejoice that birds, fish, amphibians and so on might now frolic there, but I remember that once upon a time it might have been a malarial swamp to be drained, its mosquito denizens to be deprived of homes and lives, for the benefit of man.

    IIRC, malaria was once rife all over North America, even as far north as southern Ontario. That has always unnerved me. It’s one thing to say Washington DC was built on a fetid malarial swamp, that’s way south of here. But the Ottawa valley?

    Nearly 20 years ago when we started getting West Nile virus in mosquitos here and Lyme ticks started popping up, I wondered then if they played sufficient role in the ecology to prevent us killing them all. If the particular breeds were newcomers, why not, really?

    Not that I can think of appropriate means to catch them all, but that just goes back to my original caveat.

  15. lucklucky says:

    You have no tools to value the species. What can kill you can also be what saves you.

    The messianic ideas always appears in tragedies…i am continuously listening to people wanting prohibit many stuff, and now to kill many stuff.

    Go live in a controlled environment, make with your fellows a spacecraft.

  16. Graham says:

    Well, if it helps, I live in a city overrun with pigeons, gulls and Canada Geese, all diseased vermin on some level, also fouling the sidewalks and such, but they mind their business and I mine. Occasionally I observe them with interest or exchange the time of day with one. They’re not unaesthetic creatures.

    The geese get snarky if you’re too close to their young, of course [huge crop of them last year around here], but it’s limited to warning hisses. Around here, you’d swear they have mastered traffic lights as well as most humans or better.

    None of those avian types are in any peril of numbers, far from it. And the sheer scale of their population is a function of the human environment on which they capitalize. I’m still content to share this place with them.

    Yesterday while waiting for what, in these times, turned out to be a private bus ride, I watched one pigeon stand still for several minutes, save turning its head to scan back and forth and the usual head bobbing they do. That’s by far the longest I’ve ever seen one stand still without at least hopping about or doing a circle. I assumed he was amazed to have so little traffic on the sidewalk. Getting used to the apocalypse and contemplating whether increased freedom of movement compensates for less food litter on the sidewalks, no doubt.

    We all have our preferences. My positive attitude towards squirrels, groundhogs, raccoons and crows has in the past met with disdain from friends and colleagues who maintain bird feeders, occasionally ride horses, own houses, or were traumatized by Hitchcock movies and Twilight Zone episodes, respectively.

    Admittedly, in those years of huge spikes in the highly variable crown population of North America, they have seemed more numerous than the gulls or pigeons, and that’s too many of them. On the other hand, I’ve watched what I’m pretty sure was one crow mourning his fellow, flattened by traffic. Strangely affecting.

  17. Graham says:

    Strictly, the entire effort of humanity for millennia has been to create controlled environments. Not totally, spaceship level, but more so than pure wilderness. I’m happy with the current balance. Just tweaking in one or the other direction needed.

    Every other species tries to create controlled environments for itself, too. We’re just the only ones able to do it on such an enormous scale. There have certainly been pros and cons.

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