Superhero crime fighters, blood-sucking vampires, quirky animated characters, and quintessential fixtures of Halloween décor; these creatures of the night are thoroughly intertwined in American pop culture. Yet, these cultural characterizations often lead to misunderstanding, fear and certainly under appreciation of these flying mammals. Let’s dive into how bats really are heroes of the night.
- More than 1,300 species of bats worldwide. 10 species call the Greater Houston Area home
- The Mexican Free-Tailed Bat is the official flying mammal of Texas
- They can fly up to 60 mph and at a height of 10,000 feet
- Bats aren’t blind! In fact, they have excellent eyesight. Their renowned echolocation ability allows them to hunt more efficiently at night and has no connection to blindness.
What do they look like?
An adult Mexican free-tail bat is about 4” long, weighs no more than .5 ounces, and is covered in short fur that ranges from red to dark brown to gray. Their long, narrow wings span between 12-14″. They have large, round ears that point forward and a snub nose. The tail is naked and extends beyond the tail membrane, earning their namesake – free-tailed.
What do they eat?
Mosquitoes. Need we say more? Yes, mosquitoes are part of a bats diet, but they also dine on moths, beetles and other flying insects. Bats can eat their body weight in insects every night! The volume of insects that bats, in Texas, consume annually is equivalent to $1.4 billion in insect control. Installing bat houses/roosting boxes on farms is becoming a common practice among farmers who welcome bats in hopes of reducing the need for pesticides on their crops.
What eats them?
Owls, hawks, snakes, raccoons and house cats all dine on bats. However, the biggest threat to colonies is White-Nose Syndrome, named for the white fungus that grows on the muzzle and wing of hibernating bats.
This disease causes bats to become overly active, including flying during the day. This extra activity burns up their fat reserves which are needed to survive the winter. There is no cure for white-nose syndrome, but scientists are working to control the spread of the disease.
Where to see them
Mexican free-tailed bats arrive in Texas in early March, breed in the summer, and migrate back to the warmer temperatures of Mexico for winter. However, some do “hang around” throughout the year, roosting in large colonies. One of the best places to see bats is at Houston’s Waugh Bridge.
A single bat in your house is likely just a lost or confused bat. In most cases, they will try to leave on their own. Assist the bat by opening windows and doors. Turn off all ceiling fans and remain quiet. Have patience and allow the bat to leave unharmed.
If you have a more permanent tenant, contact a specially trained bat rehabilitator or bat rescuer. Bat World Sanctuary provides a list of people who can help. Remember bats are wild animals, and many species are protected under federal law.
Have you taken preventative steps to bat-proof your home? Check out the Bat Conservation International website for some great resources.
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