All things bat were on display at Indiana State University on Saturday with the 13th annual Indiana Bat Festival welcoming hundreds throughout the day.
Folks took in live bat programs and kids got their faces painted to look like bats at the day’s campus events, and some spent the evening listening for bats at Dobbs Park. But at the heart of the festival is an effort to engage area residents and impress upon them the danger some of Indiana’s native bats face.
Indiana Department of Natural Resources nongame mammoligist Bradford Westrich manned a pair of tables packed with literature and programs aimed at bat conservation and dispelling misconceptions.
Westrich said a number of native bats, especially the Indiana bat, are facing continued disturbance of caves used for winter hibernation and the overall loss of suitable habitats.
Using fairs and festivals, such as Saturday’s, Westrich said the hope is to get children interested in and eventually involved in conservation so that future generations don’t just see bats as Halloween decorations.
“We have bat mazes and other items that draw them in, but we really see them get interested when we ask them questions about how long bats live or how much they weigh,” Westrich said. “Most probably think a small animal like a bat only lives three or four years, but some of them live over 30 years.
“It’s fun to kind of shock them with the answer.”
Westrich said bats are especially adept at eating bugs and cutting down the possibility of insect-borne disease transmission. It’s one of the chief reasons he advocates for letting dead trees stand on rural properties and planting pollinating gardens in more urban areas.
“Bats are all around us in the environment, and you could even say we live in their environment,” Westrich said. “So as we cut down their forests to make subdivisions and as cities continue to sprawl, we need to be doing what we can to support them.”
Another things folks should do, ISU graduate student Frank Tillman said, is put up bat boxes. Bat boxes mimic natural habitats in places where that habitat is either limited or gone altogether.
Tillman studies bat colony movements and roost selection. His research is focused on the fission–fusion dynamics of Indiana bats near the Indianapolis International Airport.
When the Indy airport was expanding several years ago, Tillman said biologists found a colony of bats in the area that would have been displaced if not considered in the project plan. Bat boxes were put in the area in an effort to maintain the local population of bats.
“In areas like the Indy airport, where natural habitats are really fragmented, putting up these boxes allows the bats to continue to use that space, whereas they wouldn’t otherwise,” Tillman said.
“And with the endangered Indiana bat they like to roost in what we call a femoral roost, or ones that are fragile and may fall over and not be there from year to year. These boxes offer them a more permanent roost.”
Tillman said folks should consider putting a box on their property and give bats the thing they need most.
“The limiting factor for bats is not food, it’s habitat,” Tillman said. “Any way we can add suitable habitat ... We’re always going to be expanding and so we need to do what we can to make sure we’re accommodating them.”
Reporter Alex Modesitt can be reached at 812-231-4232 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarAlex.