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The Amazing Bats of Austin

Austin, Texas is well-known for its bat colony of Mexican free-tailed bats. From March through October many people go out at night to watch the bats emerging in the dark. Every year there is even a popular bat festival which also attracts people from around the world. There are people who just don’t like bats but they are not bad creatures as long as they don’t tangle up in my hair or scare me. I think their little furry faces are just adorable as you can see in the photo. Let me tell you about the benefits of Austin’s bats. These bats come out nightly from March to October from the crevices under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge just before sundown. 

First of all, bats eat bugs. Free-tail bats have a diet of moths, flying ants, dragonflies, wasps, gnats, beetles, and mosquitoes. Remember that there are many nasty diseases that mosquitoes carry. Basically Austin’s free-tail colony eats about 30,000 pounds of insects every night and that is cause for celebration. 

As I already mentioned these bats are rather adorable. Adult Mexican free-tailed bats have these incredible oversized ears and little wrinkly faces. Baby bats are called “pups” and we all know that everyone loves cute little puppies (I mean dogs of course) but little bat pups have their own cuteness too. When these bats are upon the ground they react like rodents and sniff the air and look about their surroundings. When they are airborne they squeak. 

Even though bat dung or guano can be stinky it is useful to humans. Mexican free-tail guano has been used in the production of environmentally-friendly fertilizers and insecticides. What is interesting is that Confederate soldiers during the Civil War harvested guano so they could produce saltpeter which was needed as the key ingredient in gun powder, after their ports were blockaded. Bat guano also helps scientists researching the effects of climate change and helps other researchers, giving them bacteria and enzymes so they could produce things like detergents and antibiotic drugs. It is even used to convert industrial waste and byproducts into safe materials. 

Mexican free-tailed bat females make great moms. Each female bat gives birth to one pup per year. The amazing thing is that baby bats weigh one-third of their mother’s body weight. This would be equal to giving birth to a 40-pound human baby. Baby bats like to roost together in tight clusters of up to 500 pups per square foot. Since every pup is pretty much identical their mamas can locate their own babies by being aware of their unique cries and scents. 

Unfortunately, they have a lot of natural predators. Red-tail hawks and great horned owls are always looking to make a meal out of a bat. For this reason, these bats come out in groups. Groups of bats make it much more difficult to swoop in on just one. 

The Mexican free-tailed bat is the logo for rum-maker Bacardi rum and the reason they have been so honored is that these bats make sure that the company’s sugar cane flourishes insect-free. 

They can reach impressive flight speeds and distances and can fly higher than any other bat species. The bats are not blind at all since as they fly they give out “calls” at frequencies between 25 and 75 kHz. The sound waves bounce off nearby objects like bugs and obstacles, traveling back to the bats and giving them the information they need to be great hunters and navigators in the dark of night.

  • Question /

    Now aren’t these Mexican free-tailed bats just amazing?

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  • Question /

    Would you like to see them?

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    • Ready for a cute story? I went into my boys room, they shared a room when they were younger. Well, one afternoon it got really quiet in the room, both boys were “playing”. Well, I know silence is not always a good thing, so I went down the hall to check on them. I opened the door and they had six bats flying around the room, hanging off of curtains. I said what in the world are you two doing? They said they were cold and lonely up in the cave so we brought them home to stay the night. hahaha. Boys! They had to go back up and release them after I explained that they liked cool dark places to live.

  1. Until we had to have it repaired, we had bats living in the chimney of our building. Just a few of them but it was still great to watch them fly.

    Once my wife and I rented a cabin by a lake in Wisconsin for a week. At sunset the bats would come out and fly around. We could stand in the middle of them and they would just fly around us.

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