An appreciation: The Mexican free-tailed bat

This Mexican free-tail bat was on display at the Bat Conservation International booth at Batfest on Saturday Sep. 2, 2006. Photo by Jay Janner

This Mexican free-tail bat was on display at the Bat Conservation International booth at Batfest on Saturday Sep. 2, 2006. Photo by Jay Janner

It’s about as long as a playing card, with a wingspan about as wide as a ruler. Heck, it’d take 3 or 4 of them together to weigh as much as a golf ball. The Mexican free-tailed bat is hardly imposing … individually.

But look at ‘em streaming by the millions from under some bridge, out from some cave, a twisting tornado of “fwip, fwip, fwip” that seems to have no end, and they’re a little bit more impressive. The longhorn and the armadillo might be the state honorees, but when it comes to sheer numbers, the bats easily outnumber the rest of us mammals — people, too.

Here are five places to see the winged terror of Texas (at least as far as mosquitoes are concerned — they eat them by the ton) …

In this 1997 file photo J. David Bamberger explains the use of the bat observation window built into the Chiroptorium he has built on his ranch near Johnson City. Scientists will be able to observe bats without the use of gas-masks or caving gear. Photo by David Kennedy.

In this 1997 file photo J. David Bamberger explains the use of the bat observation window built into the Chiroptorium he has built on his ranch near Johnson City. Scientists will be able to observe bats without the use of gas-masks or caving gear. Photo by David Kennedy.

Bamberger Ranch Preserve

Where: Blanco County, near Johnson City

Details: This private ranch is at the low end when it comes to Mexican free-tailed bat population, with about 150,000, according to their web site. But the cool part is that the bats live in a man-made batcave that is called the Chiroptorium.

People watch from the Congress Avenue bridge as Mexican free-tail bats emerge at dusk in this July, 2005 file photo. Photo by Ralph Barrera

People watch from the Congress Avenue bridge as Mexican free-tail bats emerge at dusk in this July, 2005 file photo. Photo by Ralph Barrera

Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge

Where: Downtown Austin

Details: The largest urban bat colony is home to up to 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats who have been living there since the bridge was renovated in the 1980s.

Bats emerge from the old tunnel at what is now Old Tunnel State Park in 2011. Photo by Mike Leggett

Bats emerge from the old tunnel at what is now Old Tunnel State Park in 2011. Photo by Mike Leggett

Old Tunnel State Park

Where: Kendall County, not too far from Luckenbach

Details: The abandoned railroad tunnel is home to up to 3 million Mexican free-tailed bats.

Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve

Where: South of Mason

Details: Up to 4 million Mexican free-tailed bats live in the cave, which once was mined for its guano deposits.

Bracken Cave and Nature Reserve

Where: Comal County, between San Antonio and New Braunfels

Details: Recently secured from the dangers of development by Bat Conservation International, you have to join BCI to see the bats on selected nights. But the numbers are incredible — 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats make this the largest bat colony in the world.

Mexican free-tailed bats fly out from beneath the Congress Street Bridge to feed on flying insects. Photo by Taylor Johnson

Mexican free-tailed bats fly out from beneath the Congress Street Bridge to feed on flying insects. Photo by Taylor Johnson


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