BATS! 3 Ways They Can Help Our Campus

Do bats give you the creeps? They shouldn’t. These important mammals are often misunderstood. According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, 244,000 Indiana Bats live in our state. This is just a fraction of the total bat population in Indiana, as there are 12 different species that live here.

A few common misconceptions about bats:

  • Bats are blind: Bats can actually “see” in two different ways. First, bats see with their eyes just like most animals. Bats are unique because they can use sonar echolocation, allowing them to live and hunt nocturnally. Animals like bats and dolphins use echolocation by emitting high pitched noises and determining the location of objects based on the sound that bounces back.
  • Bats are flying mice: Bats are mammals. However, bats are of the clade scrotifera along with animals like the hyena, bear, and otter, not the order rodentia (or rodent).
  • Bats are more like vampires than animals: There is only one species of bat that feeds on mammals, and lucky for us, that bat does not live in Indiana. Like all mammals, bats can (although it is unlikely to) be infected with rabies. As a general rule, do not touch bats and they will not hurt you.

In a National Public Radio article published last month, environmentalists suggested adding northern long-eared bats, another species that lives in Indiana, to the endangered species list. These bats and other species are increasingly affected by white-nose bat syndrome, a fungal infection that kills bats. At the Indiana University Office of Sustainability, we are starting efforts to offer safe homes to bats on our campus.

Even if bats won’t actually suck your blood, why do we want them on campus?

  1. Bats eat bugs.

According to Bat Conservation International, “scientists estimate bats are worth more than $3.7 billion a year in reduced crop damage and pesticide use.” A main food source for bats in Indiana is rootworms, which damage crops like corn. What does this mean for us? Bats eat mosquitos. Enough said.

  1. Bats pollinate flowers.

Most flowering plants cannot produce seeds without pollination, and this is not just from insects. Pollinators drink the nectar inside flowers and pick up with this nectar pollen, which is left in other flowers as they feed. Bats on our campus will spread wildflowers around Bloomington.

Beautiful flowers in Dunn’s Woods planted by the Bloomington Urban Woodlands Project

Beautiful flowers in Dunn’s Woods planted by the Bloomington Urban Woodlands Project

  1. Bats disperse seeds.

Many bats fly long distances between feeding at night, leaving droppings as they travel. Seeds from these droppings grow into new plants, which increase area diversity and provide shelter for animals on the ground.

Are you interested in getting involved with this or other projects in our campus woodland? Do you want to be a volunteer? The Bloomington Urban Woodlands Project is involved in making Dunn’s Woods and Latimer Woods more habitable for flora and fauna through invasive removal and native planting. Contact me at zneed@indiana.edu or the Bloomington Urban Woodlands Project at buwproject@indiana.edu and check them out on the IU Office of Sustainability website.

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