By Elise Lima, Indiana State University
Giant ears that can locate a midnight meal of crunchy insects. Wrinkled faces that channel flowing fruit juices into a thirsty mouth. Long tongues that collect energizing nectar from deep within a flower.
What animals have such diverse features and diets like these? It’s a group that represents about 20 percent of all mammals on Earth and includes hundreds of species — the bats.
The many faces of bats — and their extraordinary diversity in flight, form and function — are the focus of the 10th Annual Indiana Bat Festival at Indiana State University and Dobbs Park Nature Center on Saturday, Sept. 24.
Demonstrations with live bats and wildlife, presentations by bat experts, conservation exhibits and children’s activities are just some of the festival’s popular attractions. Daytime activities are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Science Building at Indiana State, followed by evening activities from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Dobbs Park. All events are free and open to the public.
As Indiana’s only bat festival, the annual event is a rare opportunity to see bats up close and learn about these mysterious animals and their importance to people and the planet. And with over 1,300 species of bats, there are many surprising facts to learn.
“There's tremendous diversity within bats,” said Joy O’Keefe, director of Indiana State’s Center for Bat Research, Outreach and Conservation — the organizer of the festival. “A large majority of bats eat insects. Other bats eat fruit and others eat nectar. Each of these different bats, with these different diets, has different physical features.”
Giant ears, wrinkled faces or long tongues — just to name a few unique characteristics — help bats obtain their particular kind of food. And when a hungry bat gets a meal — people benefit. Insect-eating bats help control pesky bugs, fruit-eating bats disperse seeds and nectar-eating bats pollinate plants we depend on.
“Learning about bat diversity is important because it allows people to really appreciate how cool bats are and how important they are as one group of mammals,” O’Keefe said. “By thinking about bat diversity and what bats are capable of, you learn more about what bats do for us. That’s important. When we have a better understanding of the benefits of bats, we have a better appreciation for them and we want to do more to protect them."
This year’s Bat Festival includes a list of exciting headliners. Demonstrations with live bats will be presented by Rob Mies, executive director of the Organization for Bat Conservation. Talks about bats will come from bat experts including Bruce Patterson, curator of mammals at the Field Museum, and Nathan Muchhala, assistant professor of biology at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. UTOPIA Wildlife Rehabilitators and WildCare, Inc. will bring in some other creatures for up-close interaction. Numerous environmental organizations will be in attendance.
Activities will also include a silent auction, an inflatable cave for exploration, face painting, a “batty” bake sale, the BatVentures course and listening for bats in the park.
“It's pretty exciting to host the 10th festival,” O’Keefe said. ”For us (at the Center for Bat Research, Outreach and Conservation), it's the center point of the year … The energy is always really good, and we love being surrounded by people who are asking us questions about bats. We're trying to make it a bigger and better festival. It's a big effort every year, but I think it's great for the community."
The Bat Festival is sponsored by David and Rebecca Rubin, DOT Scientific, Duke Energy, Endangered Species Chocolate, Marshall and Becca Parks, Nilah Bonham O.D.P.C., Randall Stevens M.D., Rob Smith and Jan Lesniak, Roly Poly, Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau, Terre Haute Parks and Recreation, Titley Scientific, Wildlife Acoustics, William Brett Living Trust and WTWO.