The Bats of Austin

With the exception of the internet, PBS, and old Mutual of Omaha “Wild Kingdom” shows, there are relatively few places left on Mother Earth where one can witness herds of wild animals roaming about in numbers which stager the imagination...Which is probably a good thing, since herds of animals stampeding through our cities would most likely cause city dwellers quite a bit of distress!

However, the stories passed down from frontiersmen, who witnessed the great buffalo migrations, are incredible, to say the least. They speak in awe and with wonder at the great swaths of land that were mowed down to their roots by roving animals as they traveled north and south with the seasons.  The same could also be said for the wild horse populations during the turn of the 19th century whose numbers topped over 2 million in the southwestern United States. What a sight that must have been!

But, alas, those times are long gone now.  If you can afford a very expensive ticket to a far away land, then your chances become much greater at being able to witness the grandeur of nature which has since been replaced with mankind…unless of course you plan a visit down to little ole Austin, Texas that is.

Most people have some idea that Austin has a rich cultural history that includes amazing music, eclectic artists, and celebrations for just about every occasion.  In addition it’s a city that continues growing by leaps and bounds with the likes of Tesla, Google and Amazon making the city their home.  But, Austin is also home to quite a phenomenon bringing forth a nightly summer show that equals, and in some cases, surpasses the natural wonders of the past.

The Austin bats, more specifically known as Mexican free-tail bats, offer a rare opportunity to where you can in fact witness the glory of nature explode before your eyes as tens of thousands of bats lift off into the sky on their nightly quest for food. Now, you may expect this spectacle to take place in some hidden countryside, a cave, or somewhere that requires a trek deep into the woods would be necessary to behold such an event, but you couldn’t be more wrong! The most spectacular thing about the Austin Bat Show is that it happens in the heart of downtown Austin, surrounded by tall buildings and inundated with tourists & locals alike.

To give you a little history on this shindig, is all started with the rehabilitation of Congress Avenue Bridge. Apparently this bridge was in need of some serious structural support if it was going to be able to handle the traffic of a growing city. So, in 1980 work to fix it up went underway which included steel support beams and concrete crevices to strengthen Congress Avenue Bridge. Unbeknownst to the designers of the reconstruction however, in addition to fortifying the bridge they were also building a perfect breeding ground for Mexican free-tail bats. You see, female bats seek out places that have just the right temperature & humidity levels to birth and raise their pups in so it didn’t take long at all for the first mama bats to spot their new home  away from the papa bats whom are not welcome…hopefully they are still on good term, I’m sure its all just water under the bridge by now.

Anyways, after a few years the bat population exploded into uncontrollable numbers and soon it became quite apparent that there was a new sheriff in town. Well actually hundreds of thousands of sheriffs, namely Mexican free-tail bats. As you can imagine it didn’t take long for panic to set in amongst Austenite’s. These towns-folks were convinced that the bats brought them an immediate threat of rabies as well as plenty of other diseases and so needed to be eradicated as soon as possible!

If it hadn’t been for the efforts of a true Batman by the name of Dr. Merlin Tuttle who knew just about everything you could know about bats, they quite possibly might have never been! So, Dr. Tuttle convinced the townspeople to put down their pitchforks and put out their torches to watch just what these crazy little creatures could do. 

He explained to everyone that the bats rarely caused disease and in fact eat tons and tons of pesky insects that would hinder crops’ growth and put a huge dent in the over abundant mosquito population. Which, is a very good thing for us today, because not only have the bats kept up their part of the bargain by eating thousands of pounds of bugs every night, they also know how to put on quite the stage show in the process.

Whether you witness the bat exodus from under the Congress Avenue bridge, on top of the bridge, or while floating down the middle of Lady Bird Lake you will be awestruck by this event. Catch it if you get a chance!



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