Festival celebrates bats for fourth year

By: ISU Communications and Marketing Staff, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
September 23, 2010

Kelbie Thompson, a third-grade student at Dixie Bee Elementary, had never been to the Indiana Bat Festival before Saturday, but she had been interested in bats for a long time.

"Sometimes they fly over my house, and they look really pretty when they fly over the moon," said Thompson, who had a similar scene painted on her face.

Thompson, in charge of the origami bat station at the Fourth Annual Indiana Bat Festival held at Indiana State University, instructed people-mostly children-how to make origami bats from brightly colored squares of paper by following seven steps of folding.

The bat festival, hosted by ISU's Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation, takes place at ISU with evening activities at Dobbs Park.

Thompson attended with Karen Moffett, a second-year ISU ecology doctoral student, who is studying small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. This list includes bats.

Moffett was working at Dobbs Park when the first bat festival took place in Terre Haute, so she has been helping with the bat festival for four years.

Her favorite part of the bat festival is the demonstrations at Dobbs Park, which take place in the evening when the bats are flying.

"When they're out over the water, it's like gunfire. It's rapid like machine guns because they're clicking. That's how they hunt," Moffett said.

Bats use echolocation, sending signals away from them and gathering information about their surroundings when the sounds bounce back. Festival attendees listened to the bats with the Anabat, which detects the bat calls and amplifies the sound, making it easier for humans to hear the calls.

Rob Mies of the Organization for Bat Conservation and one of the featured speakers for the event, said the goal of the festival is "to teach people how important bats are."

Bats eat insects, spread seeds and pollinate - all actions that benefit humans.

Mies brought two live Egyptian fruit bats with him for people to view. The Egyptian fruit bat is commonly found in caves or trees, eats only fruit or drinks nectar from flowers and is responsible for seed dispersal throughout the rainforest. However, the bat is decreasing in number due to habitat loss, he said.

Ron Richards, curator of paleobiology and chief curator of natural history at the Indiana State Museum, brought microscopes and fossils to the bat festival.

"Can you see the big white teeth?" Richards asked a young girl looking through the microscope at a vampire bat skull.

"Now you've seen a real vampire...bat," he said with a laugh.

The Indiana State Museum is responsible for digging up bat bones and fossils from Indiana caves. Due to white-nose syndrome, a disease of unknown origin that began destroying bat colonies in the northeast and is spreading, the equipment used in one cave is designated for only that cave.

"We are trying to avoid the white-nose syndrome, but we have to presume as though it is here. We don't want to get any clay from one cave into another," Richards said, explaining that all the tools are bleached, which leads to rusting, but at least they are clean. "We hope it doesn't happen in Indiana."

Still unconcerned about white-nose syndrome, five-year-old Michael Scully took a tour through the bat cave, set up in a hallway of the Science Building, using a flashlight to maneuver through it.

"It was a blast," he said. "It was dark and buggy, and I was spooked."

Scully saw one (stuffed) bat, a centipede, a lizard and a lot of "big slime hanging down." The slime represented stalactites, which form in caves when rainwater drips from the ceiling of the cave.

Scully wanted to go through the cave again, but he didn't really want to go by himself. He decided he could go next year, since "I come here every year."

The festival featured informational booths from the Wabash Valley Audubon Society, the Bat Gate Program of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society, among others.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/2010-Bat-Festival/BSB0413/1015524739_cW5zB-D.jpg
Rob Mies, with the Organization for Bat Conservation, shows off a bat during the 2010 Indiana Bat Festival.

Contact: John Whitaker, Jr., director of the Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation at Indiana State University, 812-237-2383 or john.whitaker@indstate.edu

Brianne Walters, assistant director of the Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation at Indiana State University, 812-237-2383 or brianne.walters@indstate.edu

Writer: Lana Schrock, media relations assistant, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or lschrock1@indstate.edu.