A good friend put this together for us a few years ago – “pre-blog” and we thought it was a timely article to review. With spring weather right around the corner, many bats will begin their yearly migrations while others who “stay put” will give birth – both lead to more potential interactions with people. Remember – do not ever handle a bat, call an animal control specialist if you find an injured bat on the ground. For more information on Houston’s resident Waugh Drive Bridge Bat Colony – visit the link.
Everything is bigger and better in Texas- even when it comes to bat diversity. Thirty-three species of bats have been recorded in the state, which makes the Lone Star State the “battiest” in the country. Bats can be found in a variety of places- caves, cliff crevices, tree hollows, tree foliage, behind lose bark, under bridges, and in the occasional building. Some bats roost in very large numbers, such as the Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis), and can be seen each night as they emerge to forage. In fact, viewing the nightly emergence of Mexican free-tailed bats is becoming an increasingly popular nature tourism opportunity in some parts of the state. Other bats are hardly noticed, such as the eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis) that lives alone in tree foliage or the northern yellow bat (Lasiurus intermedius) that lives within the dead fronds of palm trees.
You may notice bats in your neighborhood as they feed around street lights or as they drink from open bodies of water. Most Texas bats are insectivorous. They are the primary consumers of night-flying insects, many of which are costly agriculture pests. Current research on the Mexican free-tailed bat, for instance, has shown that a single bat can consume up to 2/3 of its body weight in insects each night. Many of these insects are the same ones that farmers spend millions of dollars each year trying to control, including the corn/cotton boll worm moth (Helicoverpa zea). Thanks to resident bats, farmers can reduce the amount of pesticides that they would otherwise use to control these costly pests.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is committed to bat conservation and works with partners throughout the state toward that objective. The East Texas Rare Bat Working Group focuses on surveys and management of two rare bats that are closely associated with bottomland hardwood forest habitats, the Rafinesque’s big-eared bat (Rafinesque’s big-eared bat) and the southeastern myotis (Myotis austroriparius). Other conservation efforts include the Texas Bat Viewing Site Forum which coordinates research and management of bat-viewing sites known throughout the state. Public outreach is certainly an important part of bat conservation. TPWD works with groups such as the Texas Master Naturalist Program to help spread the positive information about bats.
Many people fear bats because they are active at night and are the subjects of numerous myths, including that they are blind and will fly into your hair. Bats can actually see quite well, but also use a system of ultrasonic navigation called echolocation. People also fear bats because they can potentially transmit the rabies virus. Bats can contract rabies, like any other wild mammal, but the chances are actually very low- less than one-half of one percent – that any bat you might come in contact with actually has rabies. It is very important, however, that people should never touch a bat with your bare hands and kids, especially, should know to always inform an adult if they find a bat on the ground. For more information about bats and rabies, visit the Center for Disease Control’s website.
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