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Bat Flights

By Sarah Bloodworth


On summer evenings, when the sky is clear and the sun is just setting on the horizon, a sudden whirlwind emerges from caves and bridges across Texas — masses of bats spiraling upward to the sky, as if answering an unseen signal. Enthralled spectators feast their eyes on those millions of bats and know this: it’s dinner time. Each bat can eat 600 to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour. Start multiplying and the number gets astronomical quickly. When cold weather hits, the bats migrate south. Luckily for Texans, bat populations are increasing. Texas has the highest number of bat species in the country, with 32 of 47 species. Here are some opportunities to view this wondrous sight for yourself.
Photo by Chase Fountain / TPWD

CONGRESS AVENUE BRIDGE

This Austin bridge is the home of the largest urban bat population in North America. Beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge near downtown, around 1.5 million bats slumber during the day. At dusk, on almost a daily basis during the summer, people gather along the bridge, on the lawn of the Austin American-Statesman's Bat Observation Center and in kayaks in the water to watch the bats emerge.

Photo by Chase Fountain / TPWD

DEVIL'S SINKHOLE STATE NATURAL AREA

While the state’s largest single-chambered cavern in Rocksprings is already an attraction, the tornado-like exit of more than 3 million bats out of the cavern makes the space even more impressive. The bats exiting Devil’s Sinkhole are said to fly 50-75 miles a night; thousands of cave swallows return each night when the bats leave. $12; reservations required.

Photo by Earl Nottingham / TPWD

CLARITY TUNNEL

Venture along the trailway in Caprock Canyons State Park to an abandoned railroad tunnel that houses around a half-million Mexican free-tailed bats. The bats emerge from the darkness into a fluttering cloud against the red canyon. Emergences occur regularly throughout the summer, but the highest populations are recorded in September.

Photo by Chase Fountain / TPWD

OLD TUNNEL STATE PARK

Not all bats live in caves. More than 3 million Mexican free-tailed and cave myotis bats live in an old railroad tunnel in Fredericksburg. The tunnel was abandoned in 1942, providing a perfect habitat. Two experiences are offered here: a free upper-deck viewing and a $5 lower-deck viewing (only 70 allowed), which includes a commentator and a closer vantage point.

Photo by Sonja Sommerfeld / TPWD

WAUGH DRIVE BRIDGE

For a view of bats along the bayou, head about two miles west of downtown Houston to the Waugh Drive Bridge. The bat population is estimated at around 250,000; some stay through the winter and emerge on warm nights. Come 30 minutes before sunset for a presentation. Splurge on a $30 boat trip (reservations needed) to see them from the water.

Photo © Kathy Adams Clark / KAC Productions

FRIO BAT CAVE

Take an easy hike up the hill toward this cave near Concan to encounter more than just bats. Birds of prey will often snatch bats right out of the sky as they emerge. The Frio Bat Cave houses 10 million to 12 million Mexican free-tailed bats. Bat tours are $12 for adults.

Photo © Karine Aigner / Minden Pictures

BRACKEN CAVE PRESERVE

The world’s largest bat colony is on the northern outskirts of San Antonio. Bat Conservation International’s Bracken Cave contains 15 million to 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats, the most common Texas species. In June, the population nearly doubles as females give birth to millions of bat pups. Emergences can last up to three hours. You must be a member of BCI to watch (or arrange a private event).




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