Indiana State University Newsroom

Bat Festival educates people about the ‘feared’ animal

October 8, 2013

Chattering voices of small, excited children learning about bats filled the hallways of the Science Building on a recent Saturday.

About 800 visitors of all ages enjoyed activities and exhibits of the seventh annual Indiana Bat Festival, presented by the Indiana State University Center for Bat Research, Outreach and Conservation, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Organization for Bat Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service among many others. Additionally, speakers presented on topics ranging from how climate changes affect bats to what animals eat bats in the wild.

"Hearing from those who study bats, like those of us at the Bat Center, both adults and children will gain a perspective on the significance of bats, think more critically about how their actions affect bats and gain a general appreciation of nature," Joy O'Keefe, director of ISU's Bat Center for Research, Outreach and Conservation, said.

Many of this year's activities were directed toward children including face painting and crafts. The Bat Festival also featured a new exhibit, the Batventures Course, an adventure course sponsored by Duke Energy which allowed children a chance to learn more about bats' natural habitat. O'Keefe said that it is important to "invoke curiosity and wonder" in children rather than fear. "I hope kids who attend will learn to marvel at bats and see them, as well as other animals, as important parts of the natural world," O'Keefe said.

Founder and executive director of the Organization for Bat Conservation Rob Mies said that he has been to all seven bat festivals because, like O'Keefe, he thinks of it as an opportunity to introduce both bats and science to adults and children alike. Through his Michigan-based organization, he works with rescued and orphaned bats, which he brings to the festival for live encounters. All of the bats he showed to audiences were rescued from illegal pet owners or injured bats that could not be released back into the wild.

The featured bats ranged in size and origin from big brown bats, which are common in Indiana, to the Malayan Flying Fox, the world's largest bat species from Southeast Asia.

According to Mies, the bats draw people to the festival and allow them to learn more about an animal of which they may not have a great understanding.

There are more than 1,300 species of bats world-wide, making up about one-fourth of all mammal species. Mies said that the bat species found in Indiana eat thousands of insects every night, including moths, beetles, gnats, flies and mosquitoes that damage farmers' crops. World-wide, bats disperse seeds and pollinate rainforest flowers, bananas, mangoes and cashews.

"They are so diverse both economically and ecologically important that once people start learning a little about bats, they want to know a lot more," Mies said.

Many students at Indiana State have an interest in bats, including those outside of the science field. Devin Howard, a senior information technology major from Newport, has helped with the Bat Festival every year he has attended the university. His experiences at the Bat Festival have led to lab work in the Science Building as well at an internship at the Indianapolis International Airport studying bats. He hopes that those who attend the Bat Festival gain the same appreciation he has for the animal.

"A lot of people misunderstand bats" Howard said. "They think of them as scary...but they are not like that."

This year's festival also featured an evening session at Fairbanks Park as part of 2013 Year of the River. Guests had a second chance to watch Mies' live bat encounter as well as look for bats in the night sky.

"People love to see live animals up close and personal," O'Keefe said. "They want to be outside or in touch with nature and seeing animals up close at the Bat Fest is one way for them to do that." Rob Mies gives a live bat demonstration at Fairbanks Park as part of the seventh annual Indiana Bat Festival. Joy O'Keefe presents "Bats and White Nose Syndrome" at the Bat Festival.

Writer: Emily Sturgess, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or