What happens to Austin’s 1.5 million bats during freezing winter storms?

You may be asking yourself if the Austin area bats are okay during freezing temperatures.

When cold weather hits in late October to mid-November, the Mexican free-tailed bats migrate to Mexico, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.

There are more than 1,400 species of bats, according to data from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Texas is home to 31 species of bats, two of which are endangered, according to Pest Gnome. In October 2023, the Lone Star State was named the best state in the U.S. for bat lovers.

 

How did the bats fair during the 2021 freeze?

Lee Mackenzie and Dianne Odegard, a married couple who run Austin Bat Refuge, picked up as many as about 600 bats, dead and alive, during the 2021 freeze from multiple Central Texas bridges.

The pair said they have never dealt with anything like this.

It’s impossible to tell how many bats across the state have died because of the 2021 freeze, Mackenzie said, but the number is significant and could affect bat populations in Texas.

Do bats migrate or hibernate in the winter?

Not all bats hibernate. Some bats migrate during colder months to warmer areas in search of food.

Although many bats in Texas migrate south to Mexico and Central America during the winter months, as many as 100,000 bats can linger year-round in the Austin area.

Roosts under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge have helped keep bats warm when temperatures start to drop. The spaces are 16 inches deep and 1 inch wide and can retain heat for the bats. The bridge hosts the largest urban bat colony in the world, with an estimated 1.5 million bats, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Where can you view bats in Texas?

The state features nine bat-viewing sites and 18 bat rescuers. Bat-watching starts in late March through early fall.

Here are some locations in Austin:

Bats are the only flying mammals and are really fast

A bat’s wing resembles a modified human hand, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. The flexible webbing that extends between each long finger bone and many movable joints make bats agile fliers.

Depending on the species, some bats can fly up to 100 mph.

Bats have a long lifespan

Although most bats live less than 20 years, six species were documented to live past 30. The oldest bat was discovered in Siberia at 41 years old.

How do bats help the community?

More than 300 species of fruits, such as bananas, mangos, and avocados, depend on bats for pollination.

They also spread the seeds of nuts, figs and cacao – the main ingredient in chocolate. The agave and saguaro cactus also depend on bats for their health.

What can you do to protect bats?

Bats have few natural predators but are mostly threatened by diseases such as white-nose syndrome. The disease causes a white fungus to grow on a bat’s face, forcing it awake during hibernation and leading to starvation.

People can help slow the spread of white-nose syndrome by avoiding areas where bats are hibernating. You can also help by decontaminating footwear, clothes and other gear before entering caves, as spores of the fungus are easily spread by people.

Livestream: Watch bats from Bracken Cave in San Antonio

Adrian Hedden, a Carlsbad Current-Argus reporter and Pat Rice, a Daytona Beach News-Journal editor, contributed to this report.