by Jessica Newman
When we think of a bat here in Gainesville, we think of the little guys we see right before dusk who could be confused for a small bird or even a large bug. But on Saturday, Oct. 29, locals will have the opportunity to see a fruit bat with a wingspan of more than five feet (the largest bat species in the world) right here at home, thanks to the Lubee Bat Conservancy’s Annual Bat Festival.
The Lubee Bat Conservancy is a nonprofit research operation just outside of town dedicated to the study of endangered bat species and also the development of educational projects in order to combat extinction around the world.
So why do they care so much about doing research on bats that don’t even exist in Florida? Because “40 to 45 percent of bat species are threatened in the world,” according to Brian Pope, director of the conservancy, and they play vital roles in all different types of ecosystems, from deserts to rainforests. One of their main jobs is to pollinate the native flora, without with other species within the ecosystem would also go extinct. For many places, no bats means no plants; even in Gainesville we know that less bats means more mosquitoes.
The conservancy is home to 214 bats, each one with its own name and all a product of captive breeding in order to keep the strongest genes in the pool. But the main purpose of the conservancy is education, and that’s the focus of the Bat Festival on Oct. 29, expected to draw 3,000 to 4,000 people, Pope said.
All the conservancy’s bats will be on display (with the chance to escape if they don’t like the crowds), and there will be educational talks and tours throughout the day. Music, crafts and games for all ages will keep everyone entertained, and visitors can purchased bat-themed merchandise, including watercolor paintings by the bats themselves.