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Bloomington resident receives first scholarship to study bats

Source: The Herald-Times, Bloomington, IN

April 27, 2008

It's spring, and Laura Hohman is busy researching bat houses.

And she needs your help.

Hohman is the first recipient of a $1,000 scholarship at Indiana State University given to a graduate student studying in the school's Center for North American Bat Research and Conservation.

"I'm looking at existing bat houses across Indiana," Hohman said. She's looking for both successful and unsuccessful houses. She wants to discover which bat species use the houses and why the houses work or don't work.

In fact, she and the director of the ISU bat center, John Whitaker, disagree about what species of bats are most likely to use bat houses in Indiana.

Hohman thinks its big brown bats. Whitacker, author of "Mammals of Indiana," believes more little brown bats use Hoosier bat houses.

One reason Hohman believes there are more big brown bats in bat houses is because that's the species that set up a maternity colony in the bat house at her home south of Bloomington.

"I saw the pups," she said. "Actually, I heard the pups first." Hohman said there were 20 or more females with their babies in her bat house that has several chambers. Each female usually has two pups, so there were lots of bats in Hohman's backyard.

"They were big browns, hence my assertion," Hohman stated.

But she's looking for observations from other bat houses and has sent out scores of e-mails requesting information about bat houses across the state. So far, she's received 50 responses.

She hopes to spend the next few months researching various bat houses, looking at the types used by the bats, the direction the houses are facing, the color of the house and evaluating how big the houses are.

Hohman said it's best to put up bat houses that are larger, so the bats can move from chamber to chamber to keep a constant body temperature. She said the houses in Indiana are used mainly in the spring and summer.

Hohman suspects some bats may change houses during the spring and summer and hopes to look for those houses and determine why they move. Her goal is to select a subset of the bat houses she learns about and monitor those houses in an intensive way, checking on them frequently to see the level of activity and number of bats using the houses.

She has one year to do the research. She's hoping to do the fieldwork this summer and start analyzing the data this fall.

"The more information I can get about bat houses, the better," Hohman said. She said anyone with a bat house can determine the relative number of bats by watching for the tell-tale signs of guano on the ground underneath the house.

Then, at dusk, people can count the emerging bats to get an accurate number of adult bats in the house.

If there are pups in the house, Hohman said you will hear them "cheeping, sort of like birds."

About the scholarship

The $1,000 scholarship Laura Hohman received is funded by the Indiana State University Foundation, with money from Critter Catchers, an animal control business in Ortonville, Mich. Owner Dave Kugler said he picked ISU for the scholarship because "the ISU bat center consists of the largest group of bat biologists in North America. The scholarship is a way for Critter Catchers to support the center and participate in the expansion of our understanding of many of the bats that are common in the Midwest."

A large part of the company's job is to educate its customers, Kugler said. Hohman's research will be able to help Critter Catchers and others to know how to better locate houses for bats.

Critter Catchers, Inc.
P.O. Box 312, Lake Orion, MI 48361
(248) 432-2712

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