Most of the country is probably not aware of it, but the United States is lucky enough to host one of the great wonders of the natural world: Bracken Cave.
Bracken Cave can be found in Comal County, Texas, about 30 miles from San Antonio. The cave itself isn’t all that remarkable – a crescent-shaped, roughly 100 ft. wide gap set in the side of a hill and opening on a large sinkhole.
It’s not the cave, however, that’s so incredible. It’s the cave’s occupants.
The Incredible Bats of Bracken Cave
What makes Bracken Cave so spectacular and unique is the colony of Mexican free-tailed bats that have made it their home. See, it’s a big colony. Really big.
There are, right now, somewhere around 20 million Mexican free-tails living in Bracken. Many experts suggest that the size of the colony is closer to 40 million! (As many as 500 pups have been found packed to a single square foot of cave roof-space.)
That gives Bracken the distinction of hosting the biggest colony of bats in the world. Which incidentally makes it the biggest collection of mammals anywhere in the world. And right here in the good US of A. Needless to say, it’s an amazing colony populated by amazing creatures.
Mexican free-tailed bats (AKA “Brazilian free-tailed bats”) are easy to identify, being one of the few bat species with a… free tail, which looks something like a mouse’s tail. The Mexican free-tailed is a medium-sized bat and one of the most ubiquitous mammals in the Western Hemisphere, ranging from the Southern half of the United States (as far north as Oregon on the West Coast), throughout Mexico and Latin America, and down to the southernmost tip of South America.
They’re also the cheetahs of bats – faster than any of their counterparts and reaching speeds upwards of 60 mph! Their vast numbers, great speed, and voracious appetite for bugs make them a terror to insects and a blessing for the farmers sharing their habitat.
One scientist who’d studied the Bracken Cave colony, and watched them pour out of the cave’s opening any number of times, insisted that the bat cloud was somewhere around 30 miles long and 20 miles wide. Seriously.
That mammoth collective consumes something like 250 tons of insects a night. It’s estimated that their presence saves south central Texas’s cotton farmers alone more than $740,000 a year.
Bracken Bats At Risk
Based on all of that, it seems safe to say the Bracken Cave colony is not only an incredible, unique, and precious environmental treasure but one that offers a practical benefit to the region. Protecting that natural asset is a no-brainer then, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not as universally accepted as it seems like it should be. Right now, the amazing people at Bat Conservation International (aka BCI or Batcon) are engaged in a campaign to halt the construction of a major housing development right next to Bracken Cave.
This development, known as “Crescent Hills,” would consist of almost 1000 acres dotted by 3800 densely-packed homes. Beyond its close adjacency to the cave, Crescent Hills is slated to be built directly beneath the bats’ nightly three-hour flight path, and would sit between the bats and their major water source.
Scores of young bats currently use that land and would instinctively continue to do so if a housing development was erected there. It’s hard to imagine thousands of homes and homeowners not interfering with Bracken Cave’s colony.
As pointed out by BCI, how patient would even the most tolerant homeowner be about dozens or hundreds of young bats roosting in their eaves, fluttering around porch lights to eat moths, inevitably getting into their homes, etc.? How about when the presence of so many bats prompts parents to shell out around $1000 on preventative rabies shots for their kids whenever their dog, cat, or child finds an ill or exhausted bat on the ground?
BCI recently won a (temporary) reprieve when their conservation effort prompted a prospective buyer to back out of a development deal with Galo Properties, owners of the contested land. BCI has also been successful in raising some of the money to buy the land from Galo but still need several million dollars.
As a bat protection advocate, both on and off the clock, I donate to BCI monthly for their tremendous conservation work. If you’re a bat lover yourself, or simply a supporter of ecology and environmental protection, consider contributing something to support their work – every little bit helps.
After all, interfering with or even losing the world’s largest mammal colony would be a terrible tragedy, even if that colony didn’t serve the practical and incredibly helpful insect-removal function it does. And considering the fact that the bats have made Bracken Cave their home for more than 10,000 years, I think it’s safe to say that they’ve got a pretty good claim to the land! Thanks.
Your local bat removal expert,