Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Canaries In The Caves

According to the New York Times, something mysterious is causing bats to die off by the thousands. Bats, who are supposed to hibernate during the winter and stay safe in their caves during the day time, have been spotted flying out of their caves in daylight, and even during snowstorms, only to fall to ground and die. Many of them are covered by a white fungus that biologists think might be a secondary effect of whatever is causing the deaths. In one cave, the population dropped from over 15,000 bats to 1,500 bats in approximately 2 years.

Bats dying is bad news for humans. Bats eat insects, and without them chowing down it's probable that insect infestations could cause big problems for humans, not just at dusk on summer nights, but to some of our major food sources. The ecosystem is so complex, there are also a myriad other consequences of a potential bat extinction of which we are not even aware. What I find even more disturbing than all of that is what the (potential) mass extinction of any species says about the health - or lack thereof- of our ecosystem, the one we live in with the bats. If things are out of balance, if there are new predators out there that are causing mass extinctions to one species, it's only a matter of time before we are affected.

Take for example the case of CA MRSA, a virulent staph bacteria that can lead to death in 1 out of 5 cases, resistant to most normal antibiotics, that used to affect only hospital patients, but is now loose in the public, affecting unsuspecting Manhattanites, among others. I have no idea how I got it, but I've realized - and become quite freaked out - by how many possible ways I might have caught it: holding the subway rail, shaking someone's hand, patting someone's arm, taking change after making a purchase, opening a door, using gym machines, etc. If you think about how many times during the course of your day you encounter someone else's skin, or an object just recently touched by someone else's skin, you start to see all the possible ways you could pick up some nasty little bacteria - regardless of how hygienic and careful you are.

As I'm still radioactive, in addition to protecting myself from new infusions of germs, I've also had to make efforts to protect my friends and work colleagues from my germs. It's been such a surprise to me how often I now have to stifle the urge to touch my friends. It turns out that I'm rather touchy-feely. I hug my friends when I see them, when I leave them, I pat them on their arms, and they do the same. Of course, now that I'm a pseudo-leper, I have to maintain my distance. I douse my hands in hand sanitizer that I keep next to my computer any time I touch something "new," and I offer my friends handi-wipes when they leave my office in the event that they have to open the door by turning the handle. Being full of germs is no fun, nor is being a germaphobe, but I'm having to deal with the former, and I think I might become the latter, as survival tool. I have no interest, whatsover, in catching MRSA again, or anything else for that matter.

But, back to the bats. Unlike us humans, they don't have handy bottles of purel that they can douse their wings with hanging from the stalactites of their caves. They don't have protection from the new micro-predators, an example of which is AC MRSA, that are developing at alarming rates, some of which, studies indicate, we humans have created with all of our anti-bacterial soups and lotions and antibiotic fed cows. Is there a direct connection? I don't know. But the fate of the bats (not to mention the fate of bees, who have been mysteriously disappearing) is certainly connected to our own fate.

Reading the article made me think of Oryx and Crake, one of my favorite books, in which one species after another died off, and humans - the ones who could afford it - were forced to move off of the toxic, barely inhabitable surface of Earth into sterile corporate space pods, leaving behind the poorer humans to scavenge among the refuse. In the book, before humans were forced to leave Earth, before things got really bad, species started to die off, and kids played a computer game based on betting which species would become extinct next.

The animals are the canaries in the coal mine. If they go, we're next.


Starshine said...


I remember reading about the dangers of "anti-bacterial" products. The article recommended using regular soap, as it is going to kill bacteria anyway.

I didn't realize how serious CA MRSA is. I'm glad you caught it in time! Get well soon!

Willow said...

First the bees and now the bats...this is starting to get really scary.

Willow said...

First the bees and now the bats...this is starting to get really scary.

jehara said...

i loved that book when i read it. that really sucks about the bats and bees. hopefully, we can mend our ways before it's too late.

Sparky Duck said...

I understand this is bad news enviromentally, but I dont see it as such

Starshine said...

What's going on in your world? I miss your posts! But I do understand that there are seasons where posting has to take a back seat to many other demands in life. Know that I'm thinking about you, friend!