Bats need Houstonians to understand their ecological role
By Mckenzie Brewer
It’s not too far off to assume that some Houstonians do not get to see bats often or maybe have never seen one. After all, bats are not the most common thing to see flying in the sky, especially during the day. It makes sense why some people may not be familiar with bats.
This is ironic coming from a state that is home to 32 species of bats out of the 47 species found in the U.S. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, this makes Texas the “battiest” state in the nation! In fact, we are home to the largest bat colony in the world. Just outside of San Antonio in the Bracken Cave are 15 million bats hanging around. But San Antonio isn’t the only city in Texas home to bats.
There are exactly 12 cities in Texas where you can see bats, Houston being one of them! That’s right, Houston has its own colony - two actually. Although not as many as Austin, with their 1.5 million bats at Congress Avenue Bridge, we have around 250,000 bats under the Waugh Drive Bridge along the Buffalo Bayou. There are also around 100,000 bats under Watonga Boulevard Bridge.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of conversation around about bats, mainly because of the many misconceptions surrounding bats. As the world saw during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, some blamed the rapid spread of the virus on bats.
For years, bats have been portrayed by the media and film industry as rabies-spreading animals that may or may not suck blood.
In the 2011 film, “Contagion,” the cause of the deadly global pandemic was traced back to the moment an infected bat transmitted the virus to a pig, which ended up getting passed to a chef handling the slaughtered pig.
The virus is finally passed to patient zero that contracts the virus via a handshake with the chef (who didn’t wash his hands).
The film ends leaving the audience to ponder the fact a bat had caused the death and destruction to the world all because it had a virus. Because of social media’s portrayal of bats as disease ridden mammals and the dramatic narrative films put around bats, many people today probably have a lot of misconceptions about bats and their importance to our ecosystem.
Thankfully, we have our very own mammalogist here at UHD. Associate Professor Amy Baird, who has a doctorate in ecology, evolution, and behavior, was willing to shed some light on bats. Baird reassures that “as long as you leave them alone, you are not at any danger of contracting disease from them.”
Emphasizing the need to spread awareness about all the good bats do for us, Baird went on to explain how every night bats can eat their body weight in insects, which is a considerable amount.
Imagine if we didn’t have bats at night to eat all those pesky insects and dreaded mosquitos for us?
This makes bats exceptional pesticides, which is what our farmers need. Baird added that farmers could benefit the most from their feces, calling it, “an amazing fertilizer.”
Unfortunately, every year bats lose their natural homes due to construction and urbanization, an explanation for bats starting to pop up under certain bridges. Baird shared how bats can find “very narrow openings along the bottom of the bridge,” creating an ideal home for colonies, which has led to the intentional construction of such bridges.
Bridges are a wonderful solution found in metropolitan areas that can see just how beneficial bats are. That is why Baird encourages people to take a trip to the Waugh Drive Bridge and watch the bats fly out.
“Just seeing that will change your perspective and show how beneficial they are to humans.”
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