Every evening, an estimated 10 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from Bracken Cave in central Texas to hunt night-flying insects in what Bat Conservation International (BCI) calls one of North America’s most vivid natural phenomena. While tours are offered for people who can make it there, a live video feed is now available, thanks to BCI, for those of us who can’t and offers a good way for us to share this wonder with others and raise awareness about the bats who call Bracken Cave home from March through October.
Unbeknownst to them, their home and futures have been at the center of a controversy over the Crescent Hills subdivision – a proposed housing development on property that runs adjacent to the Bracken Cave Preserve. The project, which was proposed by Galo Properties, includes plans to build nearly 4,000 homes to the immediate south of the cave, right smack in the flight path these bats travel twice a day.
Not only could this development have dire consequences for bats, but also for other wildlife, including the golden-cheeked warbler, which is an endangered species. Concerns have also been raised by other organizations, including the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, about building over the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, which will require running new water and sewer pipelines that could potentially affect San Antonio’s water supply.
Worse yet is the potential for bats to be drawn to the new development, which could result in conflicts with people and the spread of disease to their new neighbors, who could then start a fight to get rid of them.
BCI is still working on options to protect these bats, one of which includes purchasing the 1,500 acre property from Galo Properties in a deal that could prove to be a win for both sides, although nothing has been finalized yet.
“We’ll be able to protect the bats and that flight zone when they leave the cave every night. That’ll eliminate the concerns we have with the bat and human interactions that would be going on every night,” Fran Hutchins, Bracken Cave Preserve Coordinator, told News4 San Antonio. “For me, it’s great news. We’ll still be able to have public tours and the public can take advantage of this wonderful, natural spectacle we have here every night and it will be protected as it should.”
Aside from keeping this area protected as a natural wonder, ensuring these bats have a continued future will help us in turn by controlling insects and crop pests. They’re believed to consume up to 100 tons of insects in a single night, which saves farmers millions of dollars in pest control annually.
Meanwhile, you can catch the bats live via the organization’s new Bat Cam before they head south for the winter. They emerge around 7:30 p.m. Central Time.
Photo credit: USFWS/Ann Froschauer