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.”)