Bat friends are invited to the 13th annual Indiana Bat Festival on Sept. 21 on the Indiana State University campus.

Sponsored by the university’s Center for Bat Research, Outreach, and Conservation, the free event’s theme this year is “Always Hanging Out! The Busy Social Lives of Bats,” focusing on bat social networks and behaviors.

“Most bats are extremely social, just like humans,” said Joy O’Keefe, associate professor of biology and director of the bat center. “Bats hang out in groups in their roosts, whether under the bark of a dead tree, under the large leaf of a tropical plant, on the ceiling of a cave, or in the rafters of a barn.”

Some bats live in harems, where a male defends his roost and a small group of females against intrusion by other males, she added. Other bats live in large maternity colonies of hundreds — or even thousands — of moms and their pups roosting together during the pregnancy and lactation periods.

“When pups of the maternal colonies are able to fly, the group disbands into smaller factions, and males may form bachelor colonies,” O’Keefe said. “Bats also fly together in search of food, sometimes sharing information about the whereabouts of a good patch of mayflies on a stream or trees with the best ripe fruits.”

The bat festival will feature opportunities to see live bats and raptors and listen to guest speakers discuss how bats socialize, as well as children’s activities such as face painting, “cave” exploration and origami, information on building bat boxes, silent auction, bake sale and conservation exhibits by community partners.

A local mother-daughter author team also will be at the festival with their book, “The Lonely Bat.” A story about Gregory the bat, the character’s journey teaches children about friendship, empathy and (of course) bats.

Daytime activities are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Science Building at Sixth and Chestnut streets on the campus of Indiana State.

Evening events are 6 to 9 p.m. at Dobbs Park, 5170 E Poplar Drive, and include a live raptor demonstration, a survey of bats’ favorite foods (moths and beetles!), a bat-themed kids’ adventure course and listening for bats at dusk.

“People’s enthusiasm for bats does not waver,” O’Keefe said. “People of all ages just love bats and learning about bats. We have dedicated Bat Festival attendees, but we also have new people every year. That’s really exciting to get people engaged with bats.”

The festival is sponsoring a Bat Art Contest, with entries from all ages accepted until Friday. A winner in each age group (12 and younger, 13 to 17, 18 and older) will be awarded a prize. Entries should be no larger than 8.5- by 11-inch and must be submitted to the ISU Bat Center (Attn: Brianne Walters, Department of Biology, Indiana State University, 600 Chestnut St., Terre Haute, IN 47809; or call 812-237-2808).

Outreach programs like the bat festival help educate and protect the bat population, which faces serious threats including habitat destruction and the devastating White Nose Syndrome, O’Keefe said.

“It’s important to have this festival, because people fear what they don’t understand, and bats are one of those groups of animals that people think of as creepy-crawly and scary. In reality, bats are so important for us, and they’re not very scary at all,” O’Keefe said.

Most bats are the size of a quarter or two in weight — and they eat about that amount of insects each night. “They have a significant impact on insects that are pests to us — like mosquitos and gnats — but also on insects that are pests to our crops and trees, like moths and beetles. Without bats, we have to apply more pesticides and suffer more from the effects of these pests,” O’Keefe said.

“Hopefully, people feel more positively about bats, and that will translate into ‘There’s a bat in my house, I should try to get it out but not kill it.’ That would be something really positive for bats — to not have people be another one of their threats.”

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