Severe Weather Takes Heavy Toll in Texas

By Merlin Tuttle
3/2/21

Given overall warming trends, we weren’t surprised to see some 70 to 80° F days in January and February of 2021. But that hardly tells the full story!

Beginning on February 10th, historically low temperatures were recorded across Texas. For eight consecutive days (February 10–18), the temperature hovered between 37° and 9° F with six inches of snow on the ground in Austin, Texas. The first reasonable feeding opportunity for bats likely didn’t occur before the 21st.

The last similar event occurred 32 years ago in 1989. In a 9-day period (December 16–24) the daily temperature ranged from 51 to 4° F but remained below freezing for only two days versus seven in 2021. Fewer people were concerned in those days, but at least hundreds of killed bats were reported.

Brazilian free-tailed bats about to emerge from their day roost in a bridge crevice in Austin, Texas.

The recent event, Winter Storm Uri, created a disaster for overwintering Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis). Encouraged by warming trends, more and more bats have remained in their summer roosts year-round instead of migrating south for winter. In recent years, hundreds of thousands have overwintered in bridge crevices of Central Texas, especially in the Austin area. Additionally, over the last four decades, an estimated 1,000 more annually have remained in Bracken Cave.

Unlike many other temperate-zone bats, Austin’s free-tails are not true hibernators. They do store fat in the fall and can survive for more than six weeks without feeding when roosting at 41° F. In Central Texas, they emerge and successfully feed when evening temperatures are 50° F or above, and in traditional winters they seldom would need to wait more than 10 days between feedings.

To survive for eight days with average temperatures well below freezing would be an extreme challenge. Bats have the largest surface area per volume of any warm-blooded animal, and active free-tails maintain body temperatures of roughly 102° F. Following the recent weather crisis, just warming up to go hunting was undoubtedly prohibitive for many, and it’s difficult to imagine that the insects the bats depend on for food would have been immediately abundant. Even though daytime temperatures averaged 78° F over four consecutive days beginning on February 21st.

Many concerned Austinites wondered why accumulations of dead and dying bats steadily grew through at least the 25th, despite the return to warm weather. The answer is two-fold. Many bats likely were still alive but too weakened to go hunting. Some of those may take a week or more to die. Also, those that literally froze to death could take weeks to fall from their roosting crevices. Tendons in their toes are designed to automatically lock the bats’ claws firmly to the roosting crevice until consciously released. Thus, a bat may hang in place long after its death

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A School Where Bats Are Welcome

7/11/19
By Merlin Tuttle

 

Ariel Miller documenting installation of her school’s new bat houses.

Skybridge Academy is doing something new! While many school administrators might panic at the sight of a bat in the yard, Ariel Miller, founder of the school in Dripping Springs, Texas, recently invited us to install two bat houses in her schoolyard. She hopes to attract hundreds of Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) and use them as teaching aids across Skybridge’s custom-made curriculum.

 

To put it mildly, the school is innovative! The yard includes a pair of pigs, a beehive, a vegetable garden, and now deluxe housing for bats. Students choose their own subjects and learn practical skills, completely omitting standardized testing. Skybridge alumni have an outstanding track record of achievement regardless of whether they opt to pursue higher education or another career path. (more…)

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Member Night Bat Cruise

4/12/19
By Merlin Tuttle

This year’s member night bat cruise was, as usual, a fun event and included MTBC members from as far away as the United Kingdom. Due to unusually frequent spring showers, the bats have been waiting till sundown to emerge, but are still attracting large crowds of viewers.

Our April 12 cruise participants enjoyed a large, three-column emergence that began soon after sundown. If our August 16 cruise is equal to those of the past three years, the emergence will begin before sundown and include four great columns, a truly spectacular event, the best of the year. Leadership and above members receive first-priority bookings for these free nights with me and our staff. Space is limited. Make your reservations early. Don’t miss out!

Millions of tourists have watched free-tailed bat emergences from the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas over the past 35 years without anyone ever having been harmed.

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Atlas Obscura’s SXSW Bat Watching Evening with Merlin

By Teresa Nichta
3/15/19

Atlas Obscura features travel, exploration and hosts a collaborative guide to worldwide locations of special interest. Bats seem a perfect fit with a publication featuring the world’s hidden wonders! This week, they hosted their first Austin bat watching event, an armada of more than 50 kayakers, led by organization co-founder Dylan Thuras and Merlin Tuttle and sponsored by SXSWGore-Tex and Congress Avenue Kayaks.

Atlas Obscura co-founder Dylan Thuras and Merlin Tuttle discussing evening plans as they don life jackets.

 

Merlin provided a brief dockside introduction to the Congress Avenue Bridge’s famous free-tailed bats and an introduction to the diversity and importance of bats worldwide. Participants came from as far away as Australia and Brazil and peppered Merlin with enthusiastic questions. The event was so popular that an unfortunately large number of hopeful registrants had to be turned away.

Merlin introducing the world of bats to participants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a beautiful spring evening, and some 200,000 overwintering bats emerged prior to sundown. Hundreds of thousands more are expected to arrive soon, migrating north from overwintering caves in Mexico. Unusual entertainment was provided by two small falcons, extraordinarily determined to feast on bats. Fortunately for viewers rooting for the bats, these two hawks turned out to be the least competent bat catchers Merlin has ever seen. We counted more than 20 failed chases! (more…)

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PechaKucha with Batman

PechaKucha [ or ペチャクチャ translated as “chit-chat”] is a series of 6-minute talks from presenters in the creative industry including artists, musicians, architects, filmmakers, writers, entrepreneurs, and local personalities. Each presenter showed 20 images, each lasting for just 20 seconds. PechaKucha events foster the art of concise presentations.  This year’s PechaKucha Night Austin #32 was held in Austin on October 11, 2018. Merlin was honored to be invited by Austinites DJ Stout and Lana McGilvray, the hosts of PK ATX.
The following ten speakers each had 6 minutes to promote a subject in their area of expertise. Merlin, of course, promoted bats with emphasis on those in Austin and had an outstanding response. Watch his presentation!
  1. Herman Dyal – Graphic Designer/Architect
  2. Gretchen Harries Graham – Educator
  3. Dave McClinton – Graphic Designer/Artist
  4. Refugee Is Not My Name (Aaron Weiss, Jess Archer and Ashley St. Clair) – Art Collaborators
  5. Brian Beattie – Musician/Producer
  6. Dale Whistler – Artist/Sculptor
  7. Sarah N. Evans – Activist
  8. Randal Ford – Photographer
  9. Merlin Tuttle – Batman
  10. Mélat Kassa – Musician

Check out those bats! Beautiful poster made by Pentagram design firm.

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Counting Free-tailed Bats in Bridges

9/10/18
By Merlin Tuttle

Merlin inspects Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) moments after removing them from their bridge crevice roost for counting.

For many years we’ve wondered just how many Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) could cram into a single 18-inch-deep bridge crevice. Accurate counts of large colonies are difficult no matter how they’re made. However, when estimating bridge colonies, it would help if we knew the number, using an average horizontal foot of crevice.

The solution seemed easy. Two years ago, Glen Novinger, an MTBC member and I, inserted two, three-quarter-inch-thick wooden frames, each encompassing a square foot of interior space, into bridge crevices of the same width while the bats were out feeding. The idea was to later slowly remove them, forcing those roosting inside to exit into a cloth-lined bag from which we would count them.

However, the bats were full of surprises. The first night we waited patiently till half an hour after we’d seen the last ones leave—or at least that was what we thought! But when we approached to install our devices, roughly half remained inside. I couldn’t help but wonder how many emergence counts had missed those that, for whatever their reasons, didn’t emerge at sundown. (more…)

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Texas Department of Transportation Celebrates Bats

8/28/18
By Merlin Tuttle

 

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has set world records when it comes to helping bats, and that special help is paying big dividends for Texans and for countless visitors. Thanks to the enthusiastic early leadership of Supervising Bridge Engineer, Mark Bloschock and the continuing efforts of Stirling Robertson, now in charge of Strategic Projects, and John Young, an Environmental Specialist, TxDOT is taking great pride in its accomplishments.

On August 21, Stirling and John organized a special bat evening for 30 of TxDOT’s most important media and public information officers. They each received a copy of Department’s new guide to bat watching at state bridges, attended my 20-minute presentation at TxDOT headquarters, then joined me for a special Congress Avenue Bridge bat watching evening. We were delighted when we learned that Mark, who is now retired, would be able to join us.

Merlin speaking to TxDOT media and public relations staff.

Merlin entertaining TxDOT staff with bat facts while waiting for Congress Ave Bridge bats to emerge.

The bats performed beautifully, and Stirling reported, “There has been overwhelming positive response to your talk and the whole event. Good stuff!” A big thank you to Stirling for making this event possible! We look forward to future collaboration and many more bats in Texas bridges.

 

 

Emerging bats providing America’s most famous urban wildlife spectacle.

 

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Nature Nights: BATS! at the Wildflower Center

Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a free family-fun event held each summer. Merlin Tuttle and Lucas Miller were the main entertainment for Nature Nights: BATS! on June 21st. Merlin’s bat photographs captivated the children and their parents alike. Afterwards, Lucas Miller, “The Singing Zoologist,” performed for the crowd with his “silly songs about serious science.”

Live bats, courtesy of Dianne Odegard and Lee McKenzie from Austin Bat Refuge, were a big hit.

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