Central Texas is home to millions of Mexican free-tailed bats, officially called Tadarida brasiliensis. Most people think of the Congress Street Bridge bats when the urge hits to view these tiny creatures. The bats in Austin, Texas, have great crowd appeal which is well-deserved. However, lesser-known bat caves are located in State parks and on private property, making Austin and the surrounding areas major bat observatories.
I’m on my back deck this evening awaiting my nightly visitors. The bats come first as tiny specks. Swiftly they come, flying above the trees in my backyard. Darting and hovering and swirling and diving, the swarm of bats hungrily gobbles and feasts upon insects.
I’m lucky enough to watch a nightly bat brigade fly over my home from the comfort of a deck chair. No crowds or trouble parking here!
I have no idea where my nocturnal friends come from, but they fly in from the northwest. I suspect these Texas bats exit their secret hideaway by the hundreds, maybe even thousands, from a nearby location.
Bats inspire fear. They’ve gotten a bad rap. The truth is, Dracula has nothing on the winged mammals. Central Texas is fortunate to have these ecologically sound creatures. Not only do bats eat insects, but certain species also pollinate flowers, fruits, and vegetables. While you don’t want to handle bats due to the risk of disease, you definitely want them around.
Texas enacted legislation in 1995 pronouncing the Mexican free-tailed bat as the official state flying mammal. It’s estimated that 100 million bats live in Central Texas alone. Bats have hearty appetites – the reason we dig having them around – plucking off an amazing 1,000 tons of insects every night. The Mexican free-tailed bats are largely maternal populations, meaning they are mostly nursing mothers and babies. Certain moths considered to be agricultural pests are delectable, tasty treats for a hungry mama in search of a high protein diet.
It’s easy to attract bats into your garden. Lights, flowering plants and trees, as well as a clean water source are often enough to encourage the critters into your backyard. Night bloomers like Evening Primrose, Night Jessamine, and Moonflower are superior for attracting bats. If you want bats in your garden, however, be sure not to use pesticide. As with any animal, poison doesn’t mix with a flourishing ecosystem.
Have you ever watched bats emerge from a cave?
At dusk, the tiny creatures emerge by the hundreds, then the thousands. Slowly they come out, even shyly, and then, faster and faster, each one following the other on their nightly journey for sustenance. As you stand below the gentle hill where they live, the bats impress and delight as they swirl into the fading sunlight. Darkening the sky like black smoke, this is one event you will always remember.
I enjoy the wildlife found in Sunrise Beach, Texas. I dig the eight-point buck with velvety horns that wandered onto the back of my property this morning. He and a doe came to drink out of my Labrador Retriever’s swimming pool. We still see a pair of Cardinals each morning. Seems like they used to leave when it got into the crazy summer heat. This year, they’ve stuck around, much to my surprise. I even spotted a Painted Bunting yesterday evening when my daughter and I lounged on the back deck.
It’s times like these you really appreciate what you have. Sometimes the very best things in life are free.
Nothing against the bats in Austin, but we’ve got it pretty good in the western Hill Country. I sure do dig my bats. It’s been hot the past two months, but the mosquito count is at an all-time low. How about you? What do you think about Texas bats?
Want to read more? Bat Conservation International, Inc. and Texas Caves are excellent resources. Both sites are dedicated to bats in Texas. Texas Tech University also maintains a comprehensive page on Texas bats.