HOUSTON - Summer nights in our city means, heat, humidity ... and BATS! Welcome to the time of year our resident Mexican Free-Tails fly in the hundreds of thousands, from our local bridges to your neighborhood, in search for dinner. Working in partnership with 'mosquito control' on a strictly volunteer basis, they are granted free room and board in Houston for their dutiful service. Their 'room' is the Waugh Street bridge. (The bridge's under-structure is designed in a way where over 250,000 of these bats have called it home!) Their board? Mosquitos!
It's estimated in their sometimes 100-mile round trip flights, that as a colony, they consume over 2.5 tons of bugs each night, eating up to 75% of their body weight. (In an indirect, but descriptive comparison of my dream Saturday night: it's like a 200 pound person eating 150 pounds of BBQ!) In this case, our local bats weight about 0.03 pounds, or 12.3 grams. In a literal comparison, most are eating around 9 grams of mosquitoes each night. If you take your common mosquito weighing around 5mg, it means they're eating nearly 2,000 mosquitos per bat, per night.
"In larger terms, the bat colony as a whole is consuming around 450 millions of mosquitoes per night."
While mosquitoes aren't their only meal -- they love moths too -- it's thought that squeeters represent the vast majority of their diet. Either way, each summer you're looking at tens of billions of blood-sucking parasitic insects getting eating right out of the sky from where they fly, thanks to these bats.
Keep in mind, while the Waugh Street colony is massive, it isn't the only place in the Houston region where you can find bats. Sugar Land and Pearland, for example, have several bridges which harbors thousands of bats. Cumulatively, bats in Texas are a force!
As the sun sinks low each night, there are so many bats, they actually show up on weather radar!
From a distance, these bats appear like ribbons of black smoke wafting against a twilight sky. It's quite a site from close or far. Just be careful not to get too close. A woman in Houston was bitten by a sick bat a few weeks ago and had to undergo rabies shots.
Zika has, of course, been in the news as it's becoming endemic in south Texas. Houston is inevitably next for locally-spread cases. Reduction or eradication of a large portion of the mosquito population is obviously beneficial to avoid a potentially Zika-carrying bite. In this way, these bats are more valuable than ever.
Some, including myself, have wondered if bats can acquire and spread Zika, since they eat so many skeeters. Thankfully, the CDC says there's no evidence bats get sickened by the disease or that they can spread it to humans. Sounds like a win-win to me. Bats ain't pretty, but sure do help us out!
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