HOUSTON – Many people are afraid of bats, but why?
Mary Warwick, the Houston Humane Society TWRC Wildlife Center Wildlife Director and the only bat rehabber in Houston at the moment said, “That’s socialized into us from childhood; all the spooky stories from childhood.”
According to Warwick, they are great for our environment, health, and economy.
Texas has a unique bond with bats. The state has the largest bat colony in the world.
At Waugh Drive Bridge, bats emerge from the bridge’s beams as the sun sets.
“It’s pretty neat,” explained Aaron Semgstock, a resident of Shepherd, Texas who drove to Houston to see the bats. “At first they come out a little bit, then they just burst out together and create a cloud of them and then head off to where they go.”
Where they go can be destinations of up to 50 miles away. That’s 100 miles round-trip, with traveling speeds of up to 55 miles per hour. Some bats can travel 99 miles per hour. The harder they work, the better it is for us, according to Suzanne Jurek a member of the Houston Area Bat Team.
“They save us a lot of money. This colony alone, and this bridge we are standing under, will eat two tons of insects every night when they come out,” Jurek said.
Jurek said this saves farmers and ranchers millions of dollars each year.
“They have been able to cut back on their chemical pesticide use, so number one the farmers saving money on their supplies/pesticides, number two, we are getting fruits and vegetables with less chemicals on it and number three, these bats are getting an amazing meal,” said Jurek.
If you enjoy margaritas, you can thank the only mammal capable of true powered flight, according to Jurek. “Bats pollinate the agave plant, which is used to make tequila.”
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, there are more than 1,300 species of bats worldwide. Thirty of those species hang upside down in Texas, more than any other state. Houston is home to 11 species. Most live in trees, alone, in small groups, or in large colonies. All bats in Houston eat insects. There are no vampire bats or fruit bats in our neck of the woods. The Mexican Free-Tailed bat is the most common bat in Texas, living in large colonies. Texas’ bond with bats is special as we have the largest bat colony in the world at bracken cave outside of San Antonio. Its population is 20 million. Some 300,000 bats call Waugh drive bridge home; and in Huntsville, close to one-million bats live in an abandoned state prison building.
“We take in injured and orphaned wildlife, number one,” said Warwick.
As we enter colder months, bats might try to crevice deeper into people’s attics. Here’s a tip if you do not want them there:
“Wait until evenings when all the bats have come out, and this is a good time of year to do it when there are no babies. They can let the bats come out and seal it up and the bats will find somewhere else to go. Maybe have a bat house first, let them all come out, and then they will have a house to go to,” Warwick said.
What do you do if you come across a bat in your house or on the ground?
“My suggestion is to get a shoe box and another piece of cardboard, something soft in the bottom of the shoe box. You can wear simple leather gloves. All of our bats are small, and they can’t bite through leather gloves,” Warwick said.
Like any other kind of mammal, a bat can become sick with rabies, but the prevalence of the virus in the bat population is less than 1%, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.
One disease impacting bats across North America is white-nose syndrome. It’s a fatal fungus to bats and has wiped colonies out across the U.S. White-nose syndrome is common in northern states, but has been detected in Texas, as close as Liberty County. White-nose syndrome does not cause illness in people, but the white-nose syndrome response team says we can spread the fungus by accidentally carrying it on shoes and clothing, so it’s important to clean your gear.
And bat houses are they good? Experts say yes, as long as they are put up and maintained correctly. They need to keep a certain temperature, face a certain direction and have a water source close by.