Michael Durham

Ever seen a bat near a pool? If so, Indiana State University wants to hear from you.

Undergraduate Zachary Nickerson and Assistant biology professor Dr. Joy O’Keefe are studying the impact swimming pools are having on bat populations. While there haven’t been any reports of mass-bat drownings, it apparently happens enough to warrant concern.

O’Keefe, who is the director of the university’s Center for Bat Research, Outreach and Conservation, began looking at the issue after her veterinarian told her that he routinely found dead bats in his pool.

Drowned bats are especially common in the drought-prone Southwest, where the animals often turn to livestock watering troughs and swimming pools to quench their thirst.  Bats gulp on-the-go, lapping up water as they glide above the surface. Occasionally, something obstructs their flight path and they find themselves submerged. Slick pool walls are difficult for them to climb.

Unlike many mammals you might find floating in a pool, bats aren’t mass reproducers, only birthing one pup a year. That’s why a single drowned bat represents a larger dent in the population than is the case with other rodents such as mice.

One goal of the research project is to determine how pools become accidental bat baths. Bats need unobstructed “swoop zones” to refuel on the fly and there may be some backyard design elements tripping them up. “Knowing that certain species of bats are really highflyers with really long wings, they’re not going to be able to maneuver in tight places,” O’Keefe said. The researchers hope to detect patterns and possibly come up with some sort of swimming pool modification to minimize bat fatalities.

For now, however, the goal is to obtain raw data. Nickerson and O’Keefe are asking members of the pool industry to take a survey at batsandpools.wordpress.com. Responses will help them determine which species are being affected and when and where drownings occur most often.

“We’re trying to get information on something that has absolutely no information,” Nickerson said.

So far they have more than 300 responses. They hope to have at least 1,000 by the end of the year.