Indiana State University Newsroom

Busting bat myths is theme of festival set for Sept. 16

September 8, 2017

Hollywood has bats all wrong, but Indiana State University's Center for Bat Research, Outreach and Conservation will set the facts straight at the 11th annual Indiana Bat Festival on Sept. 16.

"Bats do not suck blood," said Joy O'Keefe, director of the Center for Bat Research, Outreach, and Conservation at Indiana State. "There are three species of vampire bats that live in Central and South America. They have razor sharp teeth, and they slice the skin of the mammal and they lap (blood) up. They have anticoagulant in their saliva, which keeps the blood flowing in their prey as they lap blood. As far as prey, they prefer large mammals and birds."

The goal for the bat festival is to inform people a little bit more about bats so they understand them and appreciate them more. The festival, held on Indiana State's campus and Dobbs Park, will include talks on bat biology, live wildlife programs, conservation exhibits and children's activities.

For more information about the festival, including a detailed schedule, go to

"Here, in Indiana, all of our bats are insectivorous," O'Keefe said. "A single bat can consume its body weight in insects in one night. They enjoy moths, mosquitoes, which are pests for humans, and beetles, which are important pest for our crops and trees. So, bats are really critical, in terms of insect control."

The uniqueness of the bat starts with its classification as a mammal and its ability to fly.

"They are the only mammal that is capable of true powered flight. Most bats navigate with echolocation (the location of objects through sound)," O'Keefe said. "They are not blind, but their vision isn't as good as humans."

One reason many may fear bats is their nocturnal nature that makes them visible mainly at night.

"It's an unexploited niche," O'Keefe said. "The earliest mammals were nocturnal. Around 50 million years ago is the earliest bat we know about and that bat's ancestor thought life would be better if it could get out of the trees and catch some of the things flying around. Evolutionary, they took the sky to get some of the resources that were out there and that other mammals couldn't get. Most of the birds you see are active during the day. There's not much else flying around at night eating insects. Bats also get hot flying during the day, and it is much cooler at night. That's why it makes more sense to be active at night."

O'Keefe's favorite study so far is on the very bat that bought her to Hoosier State -- the Indiana Bat.

"It's a federally endangered species," O'Keefe said. "It's also found outside Indiana but was first discovered here. I studied these bats before coming to Indiana, but upon arriving I was able to be a part of a research study that Indiana State had been conducting since the mid-1990s. Some of the different aspects we have studied over years are their social behavior, thermoregulation, roost selection and much more."

The big brown bat is a bat species that can be seen flying around all North America but in particular, frequents Terre Haute. They usually hibernate from late October until March and this may partly explain why Terre Haute is a hot spot for these mammals.

"The Wabash River provides insects for bats, and we also have a lot of wetland and dryland habitats that provide insects," O'Keefe said. "Here, in the winter, bats can go into people's houses and buildings. Since we have and continue to tear down big trees, which they would roost in, they just use human structures. So, this town and area provide a pretty good habitat for the big brown bat.

"People in town know a lot about bats, and that's part of the outreach we do," said O'Keefe. "I love it if somehow before college students left here, I could have some interaction with all of them through the bat center - so that students leave here knowing more about bats than before they came and appreciate bats for the rest of their lives."


Photos: -- Bats are seen during the 2011 Indiana Bat Festival at Indiana State University. -- A live bat demonstration is seen during the Indiana Bat Festival at Indiana State University in 2016. -- A child gets her face painted during the Indiana Bat Festival at Indiana State University in 2011.

Writer and media contact: Antonio Turner, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, or 812-237-3773