|Small, furry and often misunderstood, bats are abundant in Texas. In fact, there are more bats in Texas than any other state in the Union. And while their unusual look and almost creepy twilight appearance spooks us a little -- calling up visions of bloodsucking vampires and creatures of the night -- bats are actually beneficial in many ways. And as more and more research becomes available about bats, we begin to realize how important they really are to our society.
Would it surprise you to learn more bats migrate to Texas each year than tourists? It's true, and while there are many different species that migrate to the state, the Mexican free-tailed bat can claim the largest numbers. While most people cringe at the thought of a bat we are actually glad these little critters come to Texas each summer - just over 100 million of them. In fact, bats are beginning to attract tourist all on their own.
You see, the Lone Star State is home to 31 of the 47 species of bats found in the United States in fact. Viewing their nightly excursions has become a glorious summer pastime at state parks and wildlife management areas throughout the state adding a little kick to your next state park RV adventure.
Over the last 100 years Texas has been home to these migratory visitors and amazingly each year they return to the same caves and tunnels their ancestors visited before them. For most of them this is their birthplace, over 90% of the returning bats come to have their off spring in Texas...and by the end of summer the caves are so crowded with the next generation that the males and older females must move further south.
These caves and tunnels have come to be called "maternity caves" because they have the perfect temperature and humidity for raising the baby bats. Even as important as the caves themselves. the feeding grounds are a big draw for these nurseries of bats as well. It is their evening feeding ritual and emergence from their homes that is absolutely awe-inspiring to behold and the reason so many people are going "batty" for bats in Texas.
And here's the really good news: The bats consume 6,000 to 18,000 metric tons of insects annually, a great service to the Lone Star state's agriculture industry.
There are so many migratory bats and indigineous bats here that Bat Conservation International moved its headquarters to Austin in 1986 and has been educating the public ever since on the ecological importance of bats throughout the state. There are about a dozen "maternity caves" in Texas, but the majority of them are in the Hill Country region. In fact, the largest mammal colony in the world is a population of approximately 20 million mexican free-tailed bats who reside at Bracken Cave near San Antonio. The conservation and the Texas Parks and Wildlife agency makes sure these bats and their homes are studied and protected for future generations to enjoy for both humans, and bats.
If you have never seen a bat emergence you are in for a real treat for it is both thrilling and beautiful. However, with all wildlife viewing there are rules to follow for your safety and for the respect of the bats domain.
Be Patient - Waiting for bats to emerge is a wait and see process though you can call ahead and ask wildlife officials for an approximate time for bat emergence. If the time rolls around and they still haven't come out of the cave be patient...they will.
Keep Your Distance - Most bat caves have designated viewing areas. Stay within these areas as they are out of the direct flight path of the bats and are put there for your safety as well as for the bats.
Be Quiet - Loud noises disturb the bats and can cause them to alter their emergence behavior.
Dash the lights and no flash photography! - They are creatures of the night, bright lights startle them and can change their behavior.
No harassing the bats. - never throw anything at a bat
Never touch a bat - Sometimes during emergence a bat may get grounded. NEVER touch a bat, alert a wildlife official. Just like any other wild animal when feeling threatened they may bite and just like other mammals bats can contract rabies. However, only a small percentage of bats are rabid, even so the rule is to never touch a bat.
BAT CAVES & TUNNELS
This privately owned bat cave is a unique and wonderous eco- bio-development project. Guests of the ranch and tours are offered to environmentally-minded organizations and school groups. Tours cover a variety of ecological and biological topics as well as the nightly bat emergence of 1 million bats from the first ever man-made bat cave! The cave was constructed in 1998 but it wasn't until 2003 that a sizeable number of bats have now claimed it as home. This unique facility has allowed scientists and wildlife enthusiasts to study the growth and development of a bat colony. The Bamberger Ranch Preserve is located approximately seven miles south of Johnson City.Tours are offered on Friday evenings, during the months of June through September. Tours begin 1.5 hours before sunset. Allow five hours for the entire tour Call (830) 868-2630 for reservations, $25.00 minimum total fee for trip; $10.00 per person for groups of three or more people.
Home to the largest warm blooded collective of mammals anywhere on the planet! Bracken cave just on the northern outskirts of San Antonio is the maternity cave of some 20 million bats each year. The cave and nearly 700 acres of surrounding land was purchased by Bat Conservation International to preserve the colony which was in danger of being destroyed by land developers. The conservation is planning a visitor center and other facilities there in the future that will be open to the public but because of the fragileness of the area it is currently only open to BCI members. However, membership is inexpensive and affords private viewings of the bat emergence and further helps build the "bat center" for the future.
Caprock Canyons State Park is 100 miles southeast of Amarillo, Texas and Lubbock is a two and half hour drive. The City of Canyon is 82 miles northwest and is the home of Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, located on the campus of West Texas State University. Palo Duro Canyon State park is 93 miles to the northwest. Let's just say it is one of the most isolated bat areas in the state! Though not a true "maternity" cave some half a million bats roost here yearly. The bats have taken up residence in an abandoned railway tunnel on the Caprock Canyons Trailway. During guided vehicle tours along the trailway, you can view the bat emergence flight and enjoy spectacular views of the rugged and beautiful breaks of the Llano Estacado. Tours, which are available by reservation only, begin 1-1/2 hours before sunset and end after the bat flight; fees $25 for one participant, $12.50 each for two participants; $10 adults, $7.50 senior citizens and $5 children 12 and under for three or more participants; reservations required, deadline noon the day of tour (806) 455-1492. Dates for Summer Tours: June 29, Juy & August every Friday evening.
Congress Avenue Bridge
Some people have always said Austin was a little batty compared to most cities in the state. Austin proudly takes that claim as a compliment because it is home to the largest urban population of bats in the world. The Congress Ave. Bridge was renovated and renamed the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge ( after our late great governor), it was just after this renovation that bats began making a maternity cave of the bridge and while there was alot of fear and alarm in the beginning Austin now embraces the bats wholeheartedly. In fact, the bats have become a full-fledged tourist attraction contributing $8 million dollars a year to the local economy. Bat viewing opportunities abound with viewing areas on the bridge itself and from the Austin-American Statesman's Bat Observation Area. The center is manned by bat educators to answer your every question. There are also boat tours available for bat viewing excursions from Captial Cruises and Lone Star Riverboats. Call the Bat Hotline for more information (512) 416-5700, category3636.
The Devil's Sinkhole is located just outside RockSprings, Texas on the western edge of the Texas Hill Country. This site was designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in 1971. Adding to the allure of the Devil's Sinkhole are the millions of bats that pour out at dusk like a tornado. The cavern itself is large enough to contain the Statue of Liberty and is home to some three million bats and 4,000 cave swallows. It is a fascinating site to see the cave swallows return to cave for the evening as the bats emerge for their nightly foray, like a huge factories exchange of work shifts. Viewings take place every Wednesday through Saturday. Tours begin at the Rocksprings Visitors Center and an educational program is given on the Devil's Sinkhole and bats. Visitors
are then shuttled to the site. Fees: $12 adults, $10 senior citizens, $6 children 12 and under; reservations required, (830) 683-BATS (2287). (830) 683-3762.
Located just southwest of Mason this particular site is a part of the Texas Nature Conservancy. The cave is one of the top 10 free-tailed bat sites known in the world. Richard Phillip Eckert and Virginia Eckert Garrett donated the cave to The Nature Conservancy in honor of their father, Lee Eckert, and grandfather, W. Phillip Eckert under the condition that the land around the cave remain open to the public for enjoyment and education, as it had been for more than 100 years. Open mid-May to early October for interpretive tours Thursday-Sunday, 6 p.m. 9 p.m. Some sunrise tours of the bats returning from their nocturnal hunts also are offered. For more information, call Vicki Ritter at (325) 347-5970.
About an hour and a half northwest of San Antonio, TX you'll find the Frio Bat Cave. It's near Lost Maples State Natural Area and Hill Country Adventures offers a bat viewing tour on this private ranch. This 2000 foot cave houses around 10 million Mexican free-tailed bats, the second largest in the state and it's the largest bat populatioon open to the public in the world. Be Amazed As You Watch 10 to 12 Million Mexican free-tailed Bats Emerge From The Frio Cave Into the Evening Sky. You will also see Hawks & Falcons Catching the Bats in Mid Air for their Evening Meal. The history of this cave is fascinating, including the fact it figured in a very unusual project involving bats at the beginning of World War II. Bats were going to be fitted with "incendiary devices" and dropped like little fire bombs on Japan, the project was called, "Bat Bomb". Sounds like a bad comic book story but you can read about it in "Bat Bomb: World War II's other Secret Weapons." Fees:$10 per person; free for children 5 and under. Reservations must be made in advance. Hours: Mid-March thru September Handicapped Accessible:
Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area
Once the Fredericksburg and Northern Railroad tunnel it is now home to up to 3 million bats seasonally. The tunnel is not considered a maternity cave but in late summer when the bat pups can fly the tunnels population swells and stays high through mid-October. There is a half mile nature trail to the viewing area where hill country wild life and vegetation are in abundance, including several species of raptors.Fees: $5 for adults; $3 for adults 65 and over; $2 for children 6 to 16; free for children 5 and under Reservations are not taken, except for special group tours on Monday thru Wednesday evenings. Hours: Open year-round from sunrise to sunset; from May thru October, upper viewing area open seven nights a week and lower viewing area
open Thursday thru Sunday from 2 hours before sunset. Handicapped Accessible:
This bat cave is located within the Kickapoo Cavern State Park, approximately 22 miles north of Brackettville straddling the Kinney/Edwards County line. The park is not completely developed but reservations can be made for special tours to Stuart Bat Cave. Here you will observe over half a million bats emerge from the cave. Bat Cave Summer Tour Dates: July 7, July 21, Aug 4, Aug 18. Fee: $5 per person. Reservations are required (830) 563-2342.
The spotted bat is just one of 32 species of bats that reside in the state.
Waugh Drive Bridge - Houston
Located in downtown Houston this bridge is a smaller version of the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin. A quarter million bats call the bridge home and emerge at sunset over the Buffalo Bayou. The best viewing locations are: 1) the viewing platform at the southeast corner of the bayou bank, next to the bridge (along Allen Parkway); 2) the northeast bank of the bayou, near the bridge (near Memorial Drive); and 3) on the east rail sidewalk of the bridge itself, looking directly down into the bayou channel. “Bat Night at the Bridge” occurs every third Friday and Saturday of the month throughout the year. Please arrive about 20 minutes before sunset to hear the presentation. On the third Friday and Saturday, Houston Bat Team members will be on-hand to answer questions about bats in general and the Waugh Drive Bridge bat colony. Bats may also be observed from a pontoon boat on Buffalo Bayou through the Buffalo Bayou Partnership for a fee. Fees: Free viewing available from platform and sidewalk; fees for viewing from
pontoon boat on Buffalo Bayou are: $8 for adults; $6 for senior adults;
Located 10 miles southwest of Dallas this park doesn't contain a roosting population of bats but has several varieties of bats in the area they like to educate their visitors about. This summer join them for their presenation, " Bats-Friend or Foe?" where you will learn about their behavior, communication and importance to the ecology of the area. Presentation Dates: June 30, Aug. 3, 7 - 8 p.m. Call to confirm program 972-291-3900, ext. 232.
So go batty this summer and get out and enjoy the creatures of the night!