Come and See the Bats in Texas and While Youre At It Check Outthe Alamo

Q: What is Texas best known for? A: The Alamo Q: And what else? A: Having the largest bat colony in the world, and the largest urban bat colony in North America WHO KNEW? Interested in partaking of this opportunity? It could even bring you luck. To the Chinese, bats are thought to bring good luck and happiness. They symbolize health, long life, prosperity, love of virtue and natural death. If you're looking for something different to do that's also educational and generally not expensive, consider having a bat outing.

Many of the bat colonies in Texas are near some of the best tourism areas ? San Antonio, TX for instance, with the Alamo, Fiesta Texas, Sea World, and the RiverWalk, and since the bats take off at dusk, you can add it to the end of a day of sightseeing. QUICKIE PRIMER Did you know a bat can hear the footsteps of a walking insect? Chances are you aren't a bat expert, and if you take an adventure like this, you can wrap it around a really fascinating learning experience. For instance, did you know that: ˇBats are the only mammals that can fly. ˇOne quarter of all mammal species are bats.

ˇLittle brown bats can live over 32 years. ˇA bat will eat half its weight in insects in a single night and doesn't harm the environment. They love mosquitoes, and crop pests such as cutworms, cucumber beetles, and corn borer moths. ˇA bat uses a kind of natural sonar called "echolocation" to find insects which accounts for their weird faces. They send signals through their mouths or their noses, and they need those big ears to hear the sonar. ˇThey fly out together in the millions, but are able to navigate around the sounds of one another.

This data is from the National Park Service, and you can read more here: .

ECO-HELPFUL? In addition to eating insects and not being harmful to the environment, according to the National Park Service, "bat droppings (guano) support entire ecosystems of unique organisms, including bacteria useful in detoxifying wastes, improving detergents and producing gasohol and antibiotics." RABIES You're far more likely to get it from a closer friend, an unvaccinated dog or cat. Chances of getting it from a bat are very small. 16 years of bat-watching at the Congress Avenue Bridge have yielded no cases. In the whole bat-rich area of Central Texas, no death from rabies from a bat has ever been recorded. Nationwide, only 10 people in the past 30 years have gotten rabies from a bat.

It's also good to know that when a bat gets rabies, it doesn't get aggressive, like other mammals. It just lies there and dies. OTHER MYTHS They love to fly into your hair! This and other myths are countered on the Bat Conservation International (BCI) site: http://www. . One of the researchers at the BCI tried to get a bat to stay in someone's hair (wonder who volunteered?) and was unsuccessful. PLACES FOR VIEWING IN TEXAS Austin, Texas One of the most popular places is ? you won't believe this ? the Congress Avenue bridge in downtown Austin, TX.

A colony of over 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats lives there from mid-march to early November, having their babies (pups) in early June. In mid-August, they'll make their first hunting trip out with their mums. Over 100,000 people come annually to see them fly out at dusk. For driving directions and map, go here: http://www. .

The spectacle has all the elements of a good watch ? mystery, a bit of the creeps, expec-TA-shun, and results that don't disappoint. Tension builds as dusk falls and all eyes turn to the bridge, waiting. Then you see one bat and the crowd cheers, then another, then a million.

Silently they head out into the night and to think of where all those bats are heading ? well, I often used to see them dive-bombing my swimming pool at night. How can you see them? ˇYou can bring a blanket and picnic basket and view them from the Bat Observation Center at one corner of the bridge. They offer educational kiosks, and BCI "interpreters" on summer weekends, Thursday through Sunday, June through August. ˇFrom a cruise on Capital Cruise Boats ( http://www.capitalcruises.

com/html/bat.htm ) or Lone Star River Boats. ˇFrom the outdoor bat-observation decks of the Radisson Hotel on Town Lake, TGI Fridays, and the Hotel on Town Lake, and the Shoreline Bar & Grill restaurant in the Hyatt-Regency Austin hotel. There is ample free parking around, and it has the element of an "old timey' adventure. This is not Disney World; non-commercial, loosely structured, and basically free.

I've taken people of all ages to see this, and even those hard-to-impress teens were spellbound. Call the Bat Hot Line - 512-416-5700 (Category 3636) for information. The Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve A combined effort of the Texas Nature Conservancy and the BCI, this cave is one of the largest bat nurseries in the US. Located southwest of the town of Mason, TX near State Highway 290. 8 acres, open mid-May to early October for interpretive tours, Thursday ? Sunday, 6-9 p.m.

Some sunrise tours are available, where you can see the bats coming back. A donation of $5 is suggested. exas/preserves/art6022.

html . Go here to see a photo of the bats emerging at sunset: exas/images/o_bat_emergence1.jpg . The bats fly out in a funnel formation that's fascinating to watch. And if you're an early-bird, they sometimes offer sunRISE watchings.

For information, call (325) 347-5970. The Frio Bat Cave About an hour and a half northwest of San Antonio, TX you'll find the Frio Bat Cave. It's near Lost Maples State Natural Area and Hill Country Adventures offers birding and wildlife tours, river tours by kayak (4 and 8-hour versions), SAG support for road cyclists, and our goal here, the Sunset Bat Flight Tour. To "reserve your date with Nature," they say, call 830-966-2320, and visit them on the web here: .

This 2000 foot cave houses around 10 million Mexican free-tailed bats. Wear traction shoes, as there's bat guano on the floor of the cave. The history of this cave is fascinating, including the fact it figured in a very unusual project involving bats at the beginning of World War II.

Bats were going to be fitted with "incendiary devices" and dropped like little fire bombs on Japan. I am not making this up. You can read about it in "Bat Bomb: World War II's other Secret Weapons," ( http:/ ) by Jack Couffer, or on this website:

html . You may wish to take home a jar of Guano-Gro, or a bat house, available here: . Bat-watching can add an element of ecology and learning to your vacation trip.

Combine it with a spring trip when the wildflowers are in bloom! If, when you get back home, you want to build your own bat house for the many endangered species of bats, there are instructions here: . .

By: Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach

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