Austin bat invasion embraced by Texans

Austin bat invasion embraced by Texans
1.5 million bats take to the skies over Austin, TX every night

They say everything’s bigger in Texas, including the world’s largest bat colony (some 20 million said to live in a cave northwest of San Antonio), not to mention 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats now living under the Congress Street Bridge in downtown Austin. In fact there are so many in the state capital that they actually show up on local weather radar as they stream out in a huge black cloud to hunt for food each night to the delight of tourists from around the world who come to join local residents for the nightly spectacle, generating some $8 million from eco-tourism.

Although they were once reviled here, the bats are now a big source of pride for the city, and are now being coveted by many of its neighbors, which are now seeking to work with the Texas Department of Transportation to “adapt new bridges and roadways across the state in the same manner as the Congress Street span to attract bats

"The bats are our unofficial mascot," states Austin resident Susan Floyd. "We even had a minor league hockey team (the Icebats) named after them at one time. Their return each spring marks the beginning of festival season. And, they're weird. Just like Austin," which boasts a large bat sculpture downtown, and serves up its official drink known as the Bat-ini.

According to officials, approximately 750,000 pregnant females have been coming to nest under the Congress Street Bridge each March since the 1980’s. where they each give birth to a single baby each year. They then remain there until October before leaving to spend the winter in Mexico.

"It's wonderful for people to be able to see them, and they are really spectacular," said James Eggers, director of education for the Austin-based Bat Conservation International. "But it's an indicator that things are a little tougher for the bats, who have been suffering because the drought has killed off so many crops in Texas that there are precious fewer insects for them to eat."

According to Reuters, a 2006 study showed that the Mexican free-tails actually saved Central Texas cotton farming (which was a $4.5 million-a-year industry at the time) approximately $750,000 a year from pest control.

Unlike Texas, most people here in Connecticut tend to vilifile our own population of little brown bats, which has been decimated by a fungus known as white nose syndrome. However, their loss has caused a major increase in the state’s mosquitoes, leading to a rise in cases of mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis here.

According to Gerald Griswold, director of administration and development at the White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield. “One little brown bat can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes an hour Thus the death of more than 1 million bats since the outbreak of the deadly fungus, have left 700,000 tons of insects uneaten.”

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