Indiana State University Newsroom

Researchers conducting study on bats and swimming pools

September 4, 2013

Bats attempting to use swimming pools as a water source may instead find themselves trapped and drown. Indiana State University senior biology major Zachary Nickerson from Columbus, Ind., and Joy O'Keefe, assistant professor of biology, want to find a solution to the problem.

"There were many anecdotal reports of bats using swimming pools and even reports of bats drowning in swimming pools," said Nickerson.

Nickerson and O'Keefe explained that bats need an "unobstructed flight path and a large surface area of water" because they use a "swooping motion" to take a drink mid-flight. If the surface area of the pool is not big enough, bats can fall in the water and remain trapped within the swimming pool because they cannot grip the slick walls of the pool to climb out. After speaking with several people in South Carolina who had found dead bats in their swimming pools, O'Keefe reached out to Bat Conservation International in Texas and asked if they had heard of similar problems.

"Their expert on bats and water said, ‘You know, it is an important issue and we don't really understand how big of an issue it might be,'" said O'Keefe.

Then Nickerson came to O'Keefe looking for a research project with a conservation angle, and she knew this was the perfect project for him. Together they created an online survey ( to send across North America. With the help of colleagues, bat researchers and the National Pool Association, the survey has been sent to "anyone who owns, uses, manages or observes a swimming pool on a regular basis," said O'Keefe.

Nickerson will leave the survey open until the end of the year, and wants to receive at least 1,000 responses. He will analyze the results of each geographic region. At the end of his research, he hopes to be able to answer questions such as what areas of the country see the most bats using swimming pools and how often bats are using swimming pools.

"We are simply trying to learn more about if bats are using swimming pools as well as how they are using them," he said.

Using the data and analysis from his research results, Nickerson plans to present his research at the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network meeting in Nacogdoches, Texas, in February 2014. Together, Nickerson and O'Keefe plan to publish their findings and if necessary, make recommendations about possible swimming pool modifications that would allow bats to crawl out of pools.

Protecting and preserving bats is something that is very important to O'Keefe, who serves as both the director of Indiana State's Center for Bat Research, Outreach, and Conservation as well as president of the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network. She said that bats are not very well understood but are an important part of our ecosystem.

"Here in the Midwest bats are insectivorous so they play a great role in removing insect pests from the skies, things that could prey on our crops, trees or us," she said.

After researching bats during the summer in eastern Tennessee, Nickerson now has a new appreciation for bats, calling them his "new favorite animal."

"I have always been a fan of Batman, but not the actual animal," he said. "Once you handle the little guys, your perception of bats switches from blood sucking flying rats to little evolutionary geniuses."

Nickerson is thankful for the emphasis Indiana State places on experiential learning and said the research experience has made him "more passionate about studying biology, and more dedicated to preserving it."

"I believe research opportunities are the most beneficial thing I've done at ISU," he said. "The opportunity to take what I've learned in lectures and labs and apply it in a hands-on research setting just furthers my understanding."

For more information or to take the bat survey, visit

Writer: Emily Sturgess, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or