The biggest annual outreach event of the Center for Bat Research, Outreach, and Conservation at Indiana State University, the Bat Festival on Sept. 19 aims to educate the public about the often-misunderstood flying mammal. Their simple but important message about bats’ role in our environment is also this year’s theme.
“It’s a really valuable service that bats provide,” said Joy O’Keefe, assistant professor of biology and director of the university’s bat center.
Bats gobbling up to their body weight in bugs each night has more benefits than just keeping us comfortable. It’s also a valuable economic tool, as the fewer bugs we have, the less pesticides farmers have to apply to their crops — and less pesticides we have to ingest.
Indiana State alumnus Justin Boyles, an assistant professor in Southern Illinois-Carbondale’s zoology department, will talk about his 2011 research into the effect bats have on controlling earworm moths in corn.
Before Boyles’ research, “in agriculture, we have a lot of anecdotal evidence, but not a lot of empirical data about bats’ importance,” O’Keefe said.
ISU doctoral student Tim Divoll will also share information about what bats eat, as he researches their foraging habits. O’Keefe will offer an update about the white nose syndrome that has decimated many bat populations.
Daytime activities are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. in the Indiana State science building at Sixth and Chestnut streets. Evening activities — including listening for bats — are 6-10 p.m. at Dobbs Park, 5150 E. Poplar Dr.
“The Bat Festival is exciting, because all of these bat enthusiasts come to see us,” she said. “It’s a way for us to connect with the public and keep a pulse on common questions about bats.”
Visitors can also learn how to make their backyards more bat-friendly, so they’ll feel invited to eat bugs around your home.
Live animal demonstrations are always a popular part of the Bat Festival, as people enjoy seeing the creatures up close and personal. During the bat demonstrations, spectators are introduced to the spectrum of bats, from a small Indiana native all the way to large exotic bats from other countries.
“You can feel the excitement building in the room,” as larger and larger bats are brought out, culminating with the Malayan flying fox, O’Keefe said. “People just go ballistic. They are just in awe of this creature and its uniqueness.”
The average Malayan flying fox weighs more than 2 pounds and has a wingspan of 4-plus feet. “Can you imagine that animal flying around here?” she asked with a laugh. Luckily, it eats fruit.
“Seeing live animals really resonates with people,” O’Keefe said. “Bats are so mysterious. We usually can’t get so close to them.”
As visitors make their way through the exhibits and presentations, they’ll be amazed by what they learn, O’Keefe said. Children especially retain lots of information by participating in the BatVentures activity course that allows them to be a bat scientist, explore an inflatable cave and other activities.
You might learn so much you’ll want to pick up an “Ask Me About Bats” T-shirt and become a bat ambassador, she said.
“It takes a lot of courage to wear it,” she said, as people will stop and ask you questions. O’Keefe was recently approached with a bat question when she stopped in a coffee shop after the recent Bug Festival in Indianapolis. Fortunately, it’s one of her favorite topics.
The Bat Festival is sponsored by Wildlife Acoustics, Duke Energy, Terre Haute Parks Department, Jan Lesniak and Rob Smith, David and Rebecca Rubin, Marshall and Becca Parks, Randall Stevens, M.D., William Brett Living Trust and Nilah Bonham, O.D.P.C.