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Holy Bat Box! Students team up with GMCH to conserve bats

October 23, 2018

KOKOMO, Ind. – What do a group of college students and an auto components producer have in common? The desire to conserve the bat population in order to help the environment.

Students in an Indiana University Kokomo conservation class partnered with General Motors Components Holdings (GMCH) to build shelters for bats, which will be placed around the local factory, as well as on campus.

And while some people may think bats are scary or dangerous, they’ve learned that the animals actually have an important role to play in the environment. More than 500 plant species rely on bats for pollination, and they also are masters of pest control, with one bat able to eat hundreds of disease-carrying mosquitos each night.

“We’re concerned about the local diversity of species,” said Alex Michael, a junior from Rossville. “Bat populations are falling drastically.”

Senior Emily Tuttle, Kokomo, noted that light pollution — including in cities and around factories — is part of the problem, and one they look to remedy with the boxes.

“There are lights on all the time, and there is no time when it is totally dark,” she said. “The bats get confused and come out at the wrong times. Normally, they are in trees, but we’ve taken away that habitat, so the bat population is going down. Putting these boxes up in urban areas allows them to come back.”

They are building two kinds of boxes — one larger bat box created from a Chevy Volt battery box, which will be placed at GMCH, and two smaller wooden boxes, for the campus.

“The boxes are ecologically friendly, because they are made from what would be trash,” said Logansport resident Ashley Packard, noting that GMCH provided the battery boxes. Those bat boxes contain four layers, which can hold several hundred bats at once. The students all said they were surprised by how many bats can fix in a bat box. 

The wooden ones, which are about three feet in length and one and a half feet deep, can hold up to maybe 100 bats. Campus physical plant crew members will place those in trees, about 12-14 feet high, facing south, to provide shelter for bats at IU Kokomo.

Oriana Barnard, Kokomo, said none of them knew about the bat population decrease before the class, but now they are all concerned, and want to do their part to help.

“This made me more aware of the species for sure,” she said. “I’d never thought about bats. It’s not something you see often. I definitely have a new appreciation for them.”

Michael added that he’s more aware of his own impact on other animals, including bats, because of the project.

“It’s not something you usually think about every day,” he said.

The bat boxes were among four projects completed by students in the environmental conservation class taught by Leda Casey, senior lecturer of geology.

Casey’s goal is that her students see that they can make a difference, even in small groups, and in a short period of time.

“The issues seem very large, which can make us all feel powerless,” she said. “However, the truth is that we can have an impact, and it really only takes a few people coming together to make changes for a more positive future.”

She was pleased for those who made the bat boxes to gain knowledge about a species they may not have thought about before.

“They learned about the important ecological role of a species that has a negative reputation for being a pest,” she said. “I hope their partnership with GMCH inspires them to reach out to others in the community for help from what sometimes seems like the most unsuspecting places. Who would have thought that an auto components manufacturer would be interested in bat conservation?”

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 10/23/2018