Today, National Public Radio reported, “The Bracken Bat Cave, just north of San Antonio, is as rural as it gets. You have to drive down a long, 2-mile rocky road to reach it. There’s nothing nearby — no lights, no running water. The only thing you hear are the katydids. The cave houses a massive bat (Chiroptera) colony, as it has for an estimated 10,000 years. Bats are one of nature’s most prolific mammals. There are more than 900 different bat species. Bat Conservation International, the group that oversees the Bracken Cave Reserve, wants it to stay secluded, but the area’s rural nature could change if a local developer’s plan moves forward.”
Bat advocates are up in arms: asking local residents if they would rather live in a remote rural setting, co-existing with their neighbors the bats, or would they rather endure the congestion, lack of privacy, higher taxes and hassles a 4,000 home sub-division would surely generate. People from across the state are visiting the bat cavern to see what all the fuss is about.
Just after sundown, millions of bats begin to emerge from the massive cave. Hundreds of thousands of the tiny guys fly in a whirling vortex: a mysterious black streak against the twilight sky. Listening closely, one hears the gentle flapping of their little wing: a soft sound like gentle, steady rain.
Environmental activists voice concern over the possible annexation of the bat’s historic home. Andy Walker, Director of Bat International says he doesn’t understand why there is even any discussion about building a 4,000 home subdivision next door to the bat habitat. The developer’s proposal, Walker stated, “really instills an even deeper sense of stewardship for this land and these bats.”
“This is really a ballet, watching these bats come out of this cave in these millions of numbers, never once bumping into each other,” Walker says. Walker says he is worried about the fate of these bats if the housing project is approved.
Advancement of the construction project would have a damaging impact on Texas agriculture. Bracken Cave coordinator and tour guide Fran Hutchins commented, saying, “Bats, which eat tons of bugs, save farmers money. “This colony alone is going to eat 100 tons of insects every night,” Hutchins says. “Their primary food is agricultural pests, so those insects are very harmful to local farmers.”
“You’d like to think, also because this is Texas, where there is a will, there is a way,” commented BCI’s Walker. “People have good horse sense here and we can figure out a solution to this.”
When questioned, the majority of folks will tell you they just don’t like bats. Frighten of the furry, flying creatures, they tell you that bats spread disease, are dirty, evil, cause rabies and try to fly into your hair at night; face it, one of the most feared yet misunderstood creatures on the planet, bats just get a bad rap.
Misconceptions surrounding bats are rampant. As an example, bats don’t become entangled in human hair: bats aren’t blind. Bats see just as well as other mammals, using “echolocation” to easily detect obstacles in total darkness. Bats are actually quite benign and harmless creatures: critical indicators of a healthy eco-system.
Did you know bats are the only form of mammal that is able to fly? Although other mammals such as flying squirrels are able to glide, they cannot attain independent flight in the manner of the bat.
Bats seldom transmit disease to humans or other wildlife. However, there is always an exception to every assumption. On June 12, 2013 public health officials confirmed that a rabid bat was captured in Clark County, Ohio. Because the fuzzy mammals live in colonies, officials said more bats are likely to be infected. Local residents in the region were notified to report any bat bites and seek medical assistance immediately.
Normally, bats are a blessing of nature. Tiny mammals, vital to the pollination of many plants, bats fill a key ecological niche by feeding on a wide variety of flying insects. Crop and farm friendly creatures, bats devour incredible amounts of insects daily. The tiny brown bat, Montana’s most common species, can consume just under 1,500 night-flying insects in less than an hour!
Within the known range for 15 species of bats, Montana is home to 2 of the most common bats. The Big Brown Bat and the Hoary Bat species are migratory, flying southward for winter warmth while bat species flock to local caves, tunnels, overhangs or cliffs for the severe winter hibernation. Worldwide there are more 1,200 identified species of bats. Scientist tell us there are 45 different species of bats in the United States. 7 species are in danger of becoming extinct. The National Park Association reports on the 7 species:
Nocturnal by nature, bats roost in darkness, seeking safe and sheltered places. The tiny mammals hang head down, firmly attached by hooking their little toes in seams, cracks and crevices. From the advantage of their upside down position, bats drop from the roost by releasing their grasp. The momentum gained from falling assists them in becoming airborne. Most bats cannot take off from a flat surface.
Bats are an integral agricultural ally in the hard fought fight against invading insects, which consume crops: costing growers billions of dollars in damage every year. Its obvious, the benefit of bats to landowners is quite remarkable.
A colony of the winged invaders, residents of three caves located near San Antonio, Texas nightly consumer in excess of one million pounds of insects. The “Lone Star State” would be a very “buggy” place without bats.
A savvy Georgian pecan farmer no longer loses more than a third of his crop to hickory shuck worms. He wisely installed a series of bat houses, housing a healthy colony of over 2000 worm consuming “winged rats”.
Bats are thus described as they resemble members of the rodent family. Not to worry, extensive scientific research and DNA proves the’re not.
Escalating cases of West Nile Virus prompt Montana ranchers to investigate inexpensive and effective ways to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease. West Nile Virus is primarily spread through mosquitoes. Fortunately, mosquitoes make up a huge portion of a bats diet. A single bat can consume more than 1,200 mosquitoes in a single hour! Bats do not contract West Nile Virus by ingesting infected mosquitoes. Bats are beneficial in the organic control the populations of leafhoppers, flies, earwigs, worms, beetles, fleas, ticks. mosquitos and moths. Because insects can hear bats up to 100 feet away, birds will avoid areas occupied by bats. The effectiveness of bats reduces the need for pesticides that can harm pests, natural predators, livestock, pets and people.
Like most wildlife, bats suffer from habitat loss. Destruction of natural roosts by humans is the primary cause. Landowners can help bats by building and putting up bat houses: before you complain about bats in your belfry, think about all the good they do. They really are kind of cute.
If you want a close-up look at bats in flight, the Congress Ave Bridge in Austin, Texas is an excellent location to view the little varmints up close and personal. Bat Conservation International extends a warm invitation, say, “ The bats arrive at the bridge in mid-March and return to Mexico in early November. While in residence, they astonish visitors with their spectacular emergence display at dusk. The time of year, weather conditions, and colony size all affect bat emergence times. Late July through mid-August is the best time to see impressive flights, as new born pups first begin to forage with their mothers.” For complete information and approximate emergence times, please contact Bat Conservation International’s home office number 512-327-9721 for updated flight times.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico is another ideal location for bat viewing. The Park host a colony of more than 400,000 Mexican freetail bats. Scientific research reports that bats have lived in Carlsbad Caverns for more than 5,000 years. In 1936 the population was estimated at an excess of 8.6 million. The dramatic population decline is attributed to the pesticide DDT.
Employ the most effective and environmentally friendly ways to reduce the insect population near your home: install a bat house.
By: Marlene Affeld
WPTN 2 News
Bat Conservation International