Bat Festival gives community front row seats to bat conservation research

By: ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
September 25, 2009

The Indiana State University and Terre Haute community took flight with the third annual Bat Festival Saturday (Sept. 19).

People flocking to the second floor disrupted the normal weekend quiet of the Science Building as they came to learn more about the often-termed "creepy" creatures of bats.

The festival began with presentations from John Whitaker, director of ISU's Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation, about bats of Indiana and Rob Mies, director of the Organization for Bat Conservation, about bats of the world.

Whitaker's presentation educated the audience about the 12 different species of bats that call Indiana home. He also discussed the federally endangered Indiana and gray bat species.

"Both bats are endangered because of the disturbance of their colonies by human beings and loss of habitat due to land development," Whitaker said. "Around 101,000 to 105,000 acres per year are lost to development of housing and other structures."

Additionally, bats become endangered due to pesticides, pollution, and, in the past few years, white-nose syndrome.

White-nose syndrome is a disease that affects bats hibernating in caves throughout the northeast of the United States. As the syndrome moves west, from cave to cave, it wipes out entire colonies of bats. It has not made its way to Indiana but many scientists and researchers fear that it will be here within the next few years.

"White-nose syndrome is a cold-loving fungus that grows on bats during their hibernation," Mies said. "Around 1 million bats have died from this."

Mies' presentation included the much-anticipated live bat demonstrations with fruit bats and an Indiana insectivorous bat.

Mies has been studying bats around the world for 18 years and has appeared on a variety of talk shows to discuss bats. Before he pulled out the four different bats for the demonstration, he gave the audience some background about bats.

Insectivorous bats, found in Indiana, eat up to 1,100 insects, including moths and beetles, in one night, he said. By eating these types of insects, bats are important to farmlands and forests as they eat the insects that eat plants.

When weather turns cold, bats either hibernate or migrate to warmer weather. The more than 1,100 types of bats in the world are characterized into two groups, micro and mega. Micro bats have big ears and little eyes whereas mega bats have little ears and big eyes.

The first bat that Mies presented to the audience was a bat native to Indiana called a big brown bat. This 8-year-old bat, a micro, is considered large for Indiana but only replicates the size of a mouse.

Mies next showed the audience an Egyptian fruit bat, a mega species that eats mainly fruit, and is about the size of a squirrel. It is the largest bat on the continent of Africa.

 

The last bat-- the Malaysian flying fox -- that Mies pulled out shocked the audience. This bat, the size of a small dog, weighs around 3 pounds and eats fruit.

 

As Mies took each of the bats around the room children "oohed" and "ahhed" and could hardly sit still from excitement.

Mark Stacy, environmental specialist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, had set up a booth among the informational exhibits in the Science Building.

"This program focuses on the health and safety of the public but also helps preserve the habitats of bats and other animals," Stacy said about the Bat Cave Program.

The program has worked in Turkey Run State Park to find abandoned mines that are hazardous to the public and are home to many bats.

"We first go into the cave to check to see if bats are inhabited there," Stacy said. "If so, we build bat friendly enclosures that keep the public out, but allow the bats to fly in and out of."

Stacy and his crew have built 35 bat friendly enclosures in the southern part of Indiana where most of the abandoned mines remain.

Bill Chamberlain of the ISU Bat Center took on the auctioneer role for a live auction of bat and nature-related items and art with proceeds benefiting bat conservation.

"We raised around $1,100 from the auction and $1,500 from other sales," Whitaker said. "We were very pleased with this amount given the number of people at the auction."

Following the auction, a barbecue drew people to Dobbs Park for a bat research night. Families brought blankets and chairs and found spots in the park to enjoy their meals and wait for dusk.

Around 8 p.m., about 200 people made their ways to where Whitaker was positioned to hear bat echolocation sounds. Speakers were set up attached to a yellow box called a bat detector. As bats flew overhead, their sounds were heard from the speakers.

Bats make high frequency sounds that cannot be heard by humans but bat detectors bring bat sounds down to below 20 kilohertz so humans can hear them. The sounds of bats are somewhat like a fast-paced chirp.

The types of bats likely flying over the bat enthusiasts were red bats, little brown and big brown bats, northern bats and pipistrelle bats.

Terre Haute resident Bill Herndon and his family joined the crowd at Dobbs.

"It was my daughter's idea. She found out that this festival was taking place and since she is such an animal fanatic, she really wanted to go," he said.

"It was great and really fun," Eleanor, 6, said about the festival.

Herndon's son, Liam, 9, also had much to say about the day.

"I thought it was really fun and cool to see the bats," he said.

"The bat presentation was our favorite part," Herndon said. "Since bats are nocturnal animals, it was neat to see them up close during the day and the kids won't stop talking about it."

An estimated 1,200 people took part in this year's bat festival, up from an estimated 1,000 in 2008.

The Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation is located on the second floor of the Science Building.

Its mission is "to conduct and encourage basic and applied research on North American bats, by collaborating with students and other scientists, and to make our findings available to the scientific community and the public through technical and popular publications, teaching, and outreach programs."

Contact: John Whitaker, Indiana State University, professor of biology, 812-237-2383, j-whitaker@indstate.edu

Writer: Bailee Souder, Indiana State University, media relations intern, 812- 237-3773, bsouder1@indstate.edu

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/656669974_NbbWi-D.jpg

Cutline: Rob Mies, director of the Organization for Bat Conservation, shows the Bat Festival crowd an Egyptian fruit bat. ISU Photo/ Gurinder Singh

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/656660287_pycaG-D.jpg

Cutline: Rob Mies, director of the Organization for Bat Conservation, shows the Bat Festival crowd the Malaysian flying fox. ISU Photo/ Gurinder Singh