One unexpected consequence of the Texas drought

bat in flight

Texas is experiencing its worst drought in recorded history right now, with 95% of the state’s acreage classified as being in “extreme drought.” This has led to dried-up lakes, livestock deaths (and selloffs), crop failures, and the colossal wildfires currently devouring homes and swathes of land.

It has also led to something unexpected.

Every night, from March through October, 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats fly out from their roost beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas to forage for insects. It’s a spectacle I’ve wanted to see for years, and I’m not alone — the bats have become a major tourist attraction and a phenomenal resource for the city.

The only downside to watching the bat flight is that it takes place after dusk. The dim light makes it hard for some people to see them (we humans tend to lose our night vision as we age), and nearly impossible to photograph them.

But the destruction of Texas’ crops has also decimated the population of insects that depend on them, which means the bats must forage longer to find the same amount of food.

Which means they’re flying out earlier. These days it’s possible to watch the bats in the full light before sunset, a bittersweet consequence of the drought. Bat lovers and Austin tourism boosters are enjoying the extra views, but worried for the welfare of the bats. While it’s certainly a matter for concern, at the moment I’m just enjoying the idea of a city actually fussing over the health of its resident bats.

The BBC did a short segment on the Austin colony early this spring, with some great footage of the bats flying out over the city. Check it out.

(Photo via the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, giving a great view of the “free tail.”)


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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5 Responses to One unexpected consequence of the Texas drought

  1. Ana_ñ says:

    Excuse me, I have to ask. There are 1.5 million bats under a bridge!!!… What about the excrements?
    (They aren’t dogs, but you must know something)

    • oregon expat says:

      I think the guano is piled up on the bridge’s support beams. If the folks in Austin are smart, they’ll harvest it and use the nitrate!

    • Lilaine says:

      Hé hé ! I won’t go swimming in the river (Colorado isn’t it ? – not the Rocky Mountains one, though) around and downstream of Congress Avenue Bridge…..
      The article says they’re near 2 millions (the double of human population…. I definitely won’t go swimming in the river down there… maybe upstream, near the source ???)

      • oregon expat says:

        The estimate of bat numbers is hard to pin down, because the population really consists of around 750,000 females who come there to have their young. Each female has one baby, so the population doubles…but if there are more than 750K adults to start with, the total population later in the summer will creep up to around 2 million. It changes year to year, depending on the insect hatch and breeding success.

        • Lilaine says:

          Well, thanks ! Now I’m just picturing baby bat poop in the river …!!

          I hope the drought will not put the numbers down, though 😦

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