Holy bats, Batman!


by mponto


Posted on November 16, 2009 at 2:12 PM

OMG...these little guys are the cutest!!!Call me nuts, but I have a thing for bats. I've visited bat caves in places such as Mexico, the Rocky Mountains of Canada and off the beach in Aruba.

So when I heard that Houston had its very own bat colony, I had to check it out - especially with Halloween coming up.

Because if you're going to go batty, now is the best time to do it. It's great family fun -and it's FREE!

Located at Waugh and Allen Parkway, Houston's bat colony is located under the bridge. While you can't see them during the day, you can hear them squeaking away...and you can smell them. I must admit it does get a little musky under the bridge.

It's hard to imagine, but hidden in the concrete crevices are approximately 250,000 bats. But in the peak season, there could be up to 300,000 of the little guys hanging out there - which makes Houston's colony one of the largest urban bat colonies in Texas.

The Mexican Free-Tailed Bat lives under the Waugh Bridge. Believe it or not, bats seem to know their bridges.

"The Congress Bridge in Austin is made out of the same construction and it's the home for what some say are 1.5 million bats (although this number is not confirmed and is under dispute). Whatever the number is, Austin does have the largest urban bat colony in Texas," said Trudi Smith, Director of PR and Events for the Buffalo Bayou Partnership.

But one of the cool things about the Houston colony is that they are there the whole year long. You see, bats who live in cooler climates migrate like birds. This includes the Austin colony. Houston is warm enough for them to stay put.

There is also a new bat colony forming downtown at the Louisiana Bridge.

Unless you're a bat nut like me, you probably didn't think about the bats during the hurricane. But I wasn't the only one concerned about my little squeaking buddies.

The bats flying off at dusk. Incredible.  This photo is by Christy Molena Diana Foss was also worried.

Diana is an Urban Wildlife Biologist. She works for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and is the only real-life Bat Girl I know in the area.

"I checked on the colony and it looks like the water came up over the sidewalk on the south side of the bridge and got up to within five feet of the bottom beams. But it didn't get up to the bats," said Diana. "They still had several feet to drop down, fly out and get air."

Diana said the bats may be feeling a little unnerved by the whole hurricane experience.

"I noticed the bats were hanging out really high up in the crevices and all clustered toward the middle of the bridge," said Diana. "Prior to exiting the bridge, they clustered high up against the beams in a flattened out vortex rather than the vertical cone they usually form."

Diana told me that the bats at Waugh were first spotted in 1993, after new construction was completed on the bridge. The population has grown from there.

Watching the bats flyout as in the vortex in an incredible experience. And there are a number of ways you can do it.

The first way is to walk or drive over to the Waugh Bridge about 30 minutes before dusk and wait. As it gets dark, the bats will fly out to chow down on the bugs in the area...and the Buffalo Bayou has plenty of bugs for them to gobble up. Which is a good thing, considering the Waugh bat population can eat an estimated 2 ½ tons of insects each night.

Another view of the bats at Waugh Bridge.The Houston bats always fly to the east so either stand on the viewing bridge, the grassy part of the landing or on the top the bridge looking down. For more viewing tips, click here.

But another interesting way to check out the bats is by boat. Starting in March, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership sets up pontoon tours of the area. They are every second Friday of the month and it is a 90 minute tour for $35 for adults and $25 for children 4-12.

1. Bat pooh is not pooh, but guano and people use it for fertilizer.
2. The bats in the Houston colony are Mexican Free-Tailed Bats.
3. Baby bats are called pups and they hang onto their mothers until they are old enough to fly alone.
4. Each mother bat gives birth to only one pup a year.
5. Some people buy bat houses because they want the little guys to come over to their yard and eat up the mosquitoes.
6. Bats are the only mammal that can really fly (those squirrels you hear about are just gliding).

Oh...and it case my bat-fetish isn't enough. I actually have a favorite bat book that I read years ago. It's Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel. The story is told from the bat's perspective.