Discover Bracken Bat Cave: San Antonio, Texas

February 17 2022 – Harrison Broadhurst

The tornado emergence of TWENTY MILLION bats is a jaw-dropping, life-changing experience — one that I think every animal lover should add to their bucket-list. 

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Hey there! I’m Milo, and I am on a mission to discover the natural world and help protect it in the process. I have curated a platform, known as Milo’s Wildlife, that acts as a guide to inspire travelers to connect with nature. By creating connections and sparking life-changing experiences, I can help preserve this wild world! To join on my journey for wildlife visit www.miloswildlife.com and follow Milo’s Wildlife on Instagram at @milos_wildlife 

From my firsthand experience, observing the largest congregation of mammals on Earth can act as a catalyst to teach people. Seeing bats behaving naturally is the best way to learn about their ecological and economic value and their need for conservation globally. Of course, these connections can happen in far more places than Bracken Cave. Imagine welcoming bats into your own yard, not 20 million bats of course, but a bat house is a perfect way to contribute to bat conservation right in your own backyard.   

Located less than 20 miles from San Antonio, Texas, Bracken Cave is home to the legendary roosting site of approximately 20 MILLION Mexican free-tailed bats. For decades Bat Conservation International has spearheaded the preservation of Bracken Cave to protect the largest colony of bats in the world. The nearly 1,500 acre preserve ensures human encroachment and artificial lighting remain far away from the bats’ roosting site. Bat Conservation International has created one of the most ethical and sustainable wildlife viewing opportunities in the world. The success story from Bracken Cave is even used as a model for other conservation groups striving towards sustainable wildlife tourism.

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I was fortunate enough to see this conservation masterpiece myself in August of 2018. The sensation that still leaves me speechless was the powerful gusts of wind from the “batnado” that was produced as millions of bats circled the cave entrance flying higher and higher. Mexican free-tailed bats only weigh about as much as two quarters and have a wingspan that measures a mere 10 inches. But when 20 million of those tiny bats begin flying together the funnel of air their flapping wings create is unreal. Between mid-May to mid-September this colony emerges nightly right before dusk. The reason for the mass exudes is to hunt the night skies for insects. In fact, the entire colony of 20 million bats can eat up to 147 tons of insects each night. This amount of hunting saves the region’s cotton growers around $740,000 every year in pesticide and crop damage costs.

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July and August, make for the best months to view the bats. This time follows the yearly baby boom and is right around when the young bats are learning to fly with the rest of the colony. In addition, during these months the days are longer which makes for an extended opportunity to view the bats. 

The trick to Bracken’s success lies in their restrictive management practices. To best protect this sensitive area, they have limited access to small, scheduled groups. Only members of Bat Conservation International are granted access to designated viewing nights. Members can visit once per year and are allowed either three guests or five guests depending on their contribution level. Individuals interested in visiting may do so by registering for a Member Bat Flight, available on select dates from mid-May to mid-September. You can become a member of Bat Conservation International to share your support!

 

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I may have already checked off this wonder of Mother Nature from my wildlife bucket list, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to return to Bracken Cave again. This spectacular display of behavior is worth seeing over and over! The emergence of 20 million bats, is just something you can’t simply see once.  The image of the shifting spiral of millions of flapping wings flying into the darkening sky will always be an unforgettable sight to me!

 

 

If you want to host a small portion of this wildlife spectacle in your own backyard, consider installing a bat house! You too can help support bat conservation by simply installing your own BatBnB. These homes provide sanctuary for bats to thrive and give you the opportunity to create your own wonder of nature right in your yard!

Learn more about bat houses here!

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