Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bracken Cave Bats: visitors can view world's largest colony in Texas

The poor bat - another one of those creepy things that go bump in the night. A bit like my friends, the sharks, in that they prey not only on other species to maintain ecological balance, but they also prey on some of the dark, primal recesses of our minds. They also fascinate us.

In a single cave near New Braunfels, outside San Antonio, Texas, between the months of April and October, resides the largest known colony of bats in the world. Millions of Mexican free-tailed bats migrate to this one spot, known as the Bracken Cave, each year, swelling the total number of bats to as much as 20 to 40 million.
Bat Conservation International (BCI), working with Natural Bridge Caverns, has opened the "Bracken Bat Flight" tour to the public for the first time in 2012 to raise awareness of these amazing animals and their importance to our ecosystem during this, the International Year of the Bat. Each night at dusk visitors can view the bats leaving their cave in numbers so dense that they are detected on airport radar.

"Negative myths and misinformation have generated needless fears that have threatened bats and their habitats for centuries," said Nina Fascione, Executive Director of BCI, the Austin-based group which owns and manages Bracken Cave site. "Our goal in opening tours to the public, is to teach more people the truth about bats and the critical need for conservation efforts."

Bats play a pivotal role in managing insect populations, which is key to not only the balance of natural plant ecology, but agricultural interests as well by controlling the number of crop-destroying moths, beetles and other insects. It has been estimated that the Bracken Cave colony consumes as much as 400,000 pounds of insects every night. Additional, bats assist indirectly with plant pollination, much like bees, and the seeds they consume from eating plants helps the spread of seeds through their droppings.

And speaking of bat poop, the Bracken Cave bat's droppings, known as bat guano, has some historical significance as it was used by Confederate soldiers who mined the guano during the Civil War to help manufacture black gunpowder. The nitrogen-rich guano has also been used as a fertilizer.

Conservation awareness of bats is important because many bats are being destroyed by a fungal infection known as the white-nose syndrome, so named because of the white patch that appears on the bats nose and face. It has been running rampant through caves in the eastern United States and researchers and state officials are working hard to get it under control but it has, so far, proven to be a difficult condition to eradicate.

You can learn more about the Bracken Bat Cave tours, managed by Natural Bridge Caverns, by visiting their website at Part of the proceeds generated from ticket sales will go to the protection and conservation of the Bracken Cave site.

Source: PR Newswire

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