Give Now  »

Indiana Public Media | WFIU - NPR | WTIU - PBS

News Contact IPM News Indiana Public Media News

{ "banners": { "tv" : [ {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592884800000", "endingDate" : "1593143940000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593144000000", "endingDate" : "1593489540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593489600000", "endingDate" : "1593575940000"} ], "radio" : [ {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592580600000", "endingDate" : "1592625540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592625600000", "endingDate" : "1592798340000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592798400000", "endingDate" : "1592884740000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592884800000", "endingDate" : "1592971140000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592971200000", "endingDate" : "1593057540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593057600000", "endingDate" : "1593115200000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593115260000", "endingDate" : "1593143940000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593144000000", "endingDate" : "1593489540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593489600000", "endingDate" : "1593575940000"} ] }}
{ "lightboxes": { "tv" : [ {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592884800000", "endingDate" : "1592971140000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593144000000", "endingDate" : "1593230340000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593489600000", "endingDate" : "1593575940000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593489600000", "endingDate" : "1593575940000"} ], "radio" : [ {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592798400000", "endingDate" : "1592884740000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592884800000", "endingDate" : "1592971140000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1592971200000", "endingDate" : "1593057540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593057600000", "endingDate" : "1593115200000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593115260000", "endingDate" : "1593143940000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593403200000", "endingDate" : "1593489540000"} , {"url" : "", "img" : "", "startingDate" : "1593489600000", "endingDate" : "1593575940000"} ] }}
{ "item" : [ {"label" : "t", "mp3" : "as", "startingDate" : "1568692800000", "endingDate" : "1569124800000"} , {"label" : "h", "mp3" : "k", "startingDate" : "1568001600000", "endingDate" : "1568433600000"} ] }

Why Bats In Indiana Face A Dire Future

In an attempt to prevent the spread of the deadly bat disease White Nose Syndrome, Indiana closed its caves to the public in 2009. The fungus showed up two years later and has wiped out a large portion of the state's bat population.

Experts say, even with more research being done, the worst is yet to come for bats in Indiana.

The Current State Of White Nose Syndrome In Indiana

"People fear bats because they think of them as creepy crawly," Joy O'Keefe, director of Indiana State University's bat center, says. "But everyone I know that's thought that, as soon as they see one up close they melt and think they're super cool."

O'Keefe says there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to bats.

"They live in places we can't get to, they come out at night and we don't know a lot about them," she says. "When you don't know much about something, it's easy to be scared of it."

O'keefe has been studying bats for 14 years. She came to Indiana four years ago, about the same time as White Nose Syndrome first appeared here.

The white fungus that gives the disease its name started in New York and spread quickly westward.

This winter marks the first time since white nose was found in Indiana that surveyors are getting a chance to see its impact on the significant places where bats hibernate. For example, Endless Cave in Cave River Valley near Mitchell, Ind.

"As far as the Midwest we were probably the first one for it to show up and so some of these caves, this is minimum of five white nose winters," Scott Johnson, game biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, says.

He went out on one of the first cave surveys of the winter to get cave swabs and count the number of bats. The cave swabs will be sent to a national effort to track and research the spread of WNS across North America. Endless Cave was the first place White Nose Syndrome was found in Indiana, and now officials say over 30 other caves in the state have the fungus.

Along with Johnson was a team of contracted cave surveyors who have been doing these surveys since the 1980's when the effort to keep the endangered Indiana bat population first started. He says early indications show a decrease in little brown bats and what is hopefully a stable population of Indiana bats.

"It was about what we expected," he says after coming out of the cave. "The little browns, very few, maybe 100-150. [The cave]'s been averaging about 1200 little browns for the past 10-12 years, and 2 years ago there were 700 in here. The Indiana bats I wouldn't think it would be down significantly, but I don't think it's up, I hope it's a wash. Considering what we've seen in other caves, I'll take that."

What's Being Done To Help Affected Bats

Johnson and the other surveyors follow strict decontamination protocol when going in and out of caves. They make sure the bodysuits they use are thrown away afterwards, and all clothes and gear are boiled or washed off in lysol to kill any fungus spores that may have gotten on them.

"Those protocols are there to hopefully not transport the fungus to new or additional sites where it hasn't been detected," Richard Geboy, midwest white nose syndrome coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says. Geboy works with the Indiana DNR to bring them up-to-date information and research.

Johnson says beyond these defensive strategies, there's really not much more the DNR, or anyone, can do at the moment.

"I don't think anyone's been able to stop it or contain it," he says. "We've taken steps to try and minimize the chance for humans to transport it, we take precautions with decon, we contribute as much as we can to national efforts to study the disease. …but we've done everything we can to slow it and we haven't been very successful."

There have been ideas for more aggressive strategies to slow the spread, but a cave,s delicate ecosystem requires biologists to carefully weigh whether introducing something new is worth the risk.

And, a lot of people are paying attention right now to what Indiana is doing. The state has the largest population of the Indiana Bat.

So researchers are watching how the disease spreads and waiting to see if it starts to heavily impact the Indiana bat.

"All indications are that we still have worse days ahead of us," O'Keefe says.

O'keefe says the bats in Indiana face a dire situation, and even if the populations stabilize like they've done in the Northeast, it's still unknown how the bats will come out on the other side. She says the possibility of total extinction for the bats in Indiana is a real possibility.

"Stabilizing at a very low population doesn't mean the species will continue to persist," she warns. "If they can't sustain normal summer population sizes then they can't get sufficient sizes of populations in winter. And because they do rely on each other for body heat to some degree then maybe they won't persist as a species."

All indications are that we still have worse days ahead of us. - Joy O'Keefe, ISU Bat Center

How Does The Bat's Future Look In Indiana?

In Bloomington, dozens of families and residents have taken the day off to help with the Community Orchard. They're building small boxes to put up in the orchard for bats to roost in.

Bogdan Dragnea is one of those residents. He lives close to Yellowwood Forest, and he says bats have become an important part of his life by eating insects.

"I guess it's part of the normal ecological balance that we are also part of," Dragnea says. "So every little link in this chain can trigger unexpected consequences so we would like to tread lightly when changing that equilibrium."

And that attitude is exactly what O'keefe says is important for the future of bats in Indiana.

She also says building bat boxes is one way anyone can help bats. Once bats leave hibernation, they try to find shelter in trees, and since their habitat is increasingly getting smaller, bat boxes are a good way to try to sustain their numbers.

Bats play an important part in the ecosystem, even if it happens when we don't see it. They are not only integral in eating crop pests, bats also serve scientific and medicinal purposes particularly related to researching sonar and vaccines.

"Bats play a huge role though in the environment and I think it's something that we really need to take note of and realize because they really benefit our crops, our forest and consequently us," Geboy says.

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

Find Us on Facebook