Hordes of bats delight Texas city residents

Thu Jul 28, 2011 12:22pm EDT
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By Karen Brooks

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A drought in the state of Texas, where 1.5 million bats are living under a bridge in the city of Austin, has fueled a bat frenzy with locals gathering each night to view the nocturnal creatures.

The drought has destroyed crops in Texas and killed delicious pests that the Mexican free-tailed bats eat.

The lack of food means the bats leave home earlier than usual each night to find nourishment -- giving the locals more time to watch the normally-nocturnal critters fly before the sun goes down.

Each night they stream from under a bridge by the hundreds of thousands in a black cloud so large that it shows up on local weather radar.

"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."

But naturalists do not see any negative long-term effects if the drought ends soon.

"If we just have one to two years of drought, it's a natural cycle and it's not going to affect the species as a whole," Eggers said. "What some scientists fear is that this is not a regular drought, but could be indicative of change coming because of global warming. If we have an extended drought for many years, that could affect the population of the Mexican free-tails."

An extended drought could be a double whammy for central Texas farmers, who depend on the bats to remove some 1,000 tons of insects and pests from the air each night.   Continued...

<p>One of some 1.5 million bats emerges from below the Congress Street Bridge near downtown Austin, Texas July 27, 2011, as they do every night in the summer, looking for food. REUTERS/Charlie L. Harper III</p>