Written by Alana Hughes, Digital Marketing Intern.
Our brand-new Home STEAM blog series highlights the super cool STEAM stuff that happens in our beloved home town—Austin!
Have you ever watched bats fly out of the Congress Avenue Bridge? Every evening during summer months, locals and tourists gather to watch as 1.5 million bats emerge from the largest urban bat colony in North America. Yep, that’s right here in Austin! There’s no doubt about it—this nightly spectacle is one of Austin’s most fascinating attractions. Since it’s Halloween, we figured it’s the perfect time to get a little batty and learn some fun facts about our seasonal neighbors.
Austin’s bridge bats are Mexican free-tailed bats that travel to Austin, and to other parts of the southwestern U.S., from Mexico each spring. They can be found in Austin from March until early November.
The Mexican free-tailed bat is a medium sized bat with black forward-facing ears and long narrow wings. They are mammals and typically have reddish-brown or gray fur.
Did you know that bats are the only mammals that can fly just like birds? Their tails are more than one-third the size of their bodies which allows them to fly around 60 miles per hour and up to two miles high!
The bats fly out of the bridge at night—between 7 and 8 pm—since they are nocturnal animals. This means that they sleep all day and are active at night. They emerge each night to hunt for insects and can collectively eat between 10,000–20,000 pounds of insects in one night! Thanks to them, the Austin insect population is kept in check.
Bats can find their food at night using echolocation, which means they use sound waves to navigate through the dark and detect flying insects. This unique sense of hearing allows them to emit sounds that bounce off objects and result in echoes that bats can use to “see” exactly what objects are in their path, as well as how big and how far away they are.
These winged creatures first called Austin home in 1980 when renovations on the Congress Avenue Bridge resulted in the creation of concrete crevices underneath the bridge. These holes are 16-inches deep and retain heat from the sun during the day, making them an ideal home for the Mexican free-tailed bat colony.
When the bats first moved in, Austin residents feared potential negative effects that such a large bat colony could have on the community and many wanted to get rid of them. Thankfully, researchers like Dr. Merlin Tuttle came to the bats’ rescue and founded Bat Conservation International to educate the public on these awesome creatures. The organization is still working today to make sure that the cities development does not affect the colony.
Today, these bridge bats are a part of Austin’s identity and are welcomed to the city each summer. Though it might be a little too late to catch a glimpse of the colony this year, make sure to check out our furry friends when they return in 2018!