It’s a warm September night here in Austin. We took a short walk over to the Congress Avenue Bridge to see, what has become a major Austin tourist attraction. The largest urban bat colony in North America live under this bridge in the gaps between the concrete. Two million Mexican free-tailed bats. For some perspective, there are only 900,000 PEOPLE living in Austin. Every evening from March through September, the bats come out at dusk, forming a black bat-cloud that spirals out into the sky. This nightly bat-feeding was initially met with fear by the locals, but slowly an appreciation developed for these gentle and incredibly sophisticated animals. Now as the sun sets, a crowd of people gather to watch in fascination. During each nightly foray the bats manage to eat an estimated 30,000 POUNDS of insects, moths, beetles, dragonflies, flies wasps and ants! This spectacle attracts as many as 100,000 tourists annually and it gives an $8 million economic boost to the city of Austin. Did you know that Mexican free-tailed bats are widely regarded as one of the most abundant mammals in North America? They are only about 3 1/2 inches long and weigh about .75 oz. They used to roost in caves and in the halls of trees, but now many bats prefer buildings and other man-made structures. They hunt their prey using echolocation. Bats are also very efficient pollinators. In fact, their pollination of sugarcane, as well as their consumption of insects damaging to sugarcane, is why Bacardi rum features the Mexican free tailed bat as its icon.
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