Last night, I had the chance to visit Bracken Cave and watch fifteen million bats emerge into the night sky. It was incredible, and at the end of this post are instructions for how you can visit this cave too.
Bracken Cave has been the summer home of Mexican freetailed bats for over 10,000 years. This one population is the largest colony of bats in the world and the largest congregation of mammals on earth.
On earth. And it’s right here in Texas.
Everyone wants to get to Texas as fast as they can, even bats. I mean, can we blame them?
Bracken Cave is a maternal colony, meaning it’s where female bats come to give birth and raise their young. At sundown, the mamas start to trickle out of the cave and form a vortex in front of the cave’s mouth.
Since the entrance of the cave sits at the bottom of a large depression in the earth, the bats must circle in this vortex-like fashion in order to get wind under their wings to carry them upwards.
Hundreds and thousands more join in, until they are all piling out of the cave like a billowing plume of smoke. It takes 4 hours–FOUR HOURS–for them all to exit the cave.
Fifteen million of anything is a sight to behold, but fifteen million little bitty animals, each one smaller than your palm, blanketing the sky overhead is a surreal phenomenon.
It makes you feel small and inconsequential compared to the natural world, similar to the feeling of standing at the foot of a mountain.
Another thing you will notice, should you ever visit Bracken, is the unique sound that 30 million bat wings make as they hover overhead. This video somewhat captures it:
And of course, we can’t forget all of the animals that depend on this bat population. Hawks soared overhead and we watched them dive through the cloud of bats in search of dinner.
Snakes, foxes, and skunks have also come to the mouth of the cave at night. Circle of life baby.
One other important detail I should mention is that these bats are surprisingly cute. I didn’t expect to feel this way about bats. But as it turns out, their little bodies and feet are fuzzy and sweet.
Their faces are to tiny and round. And–those ears.
You know I have a thing for animals with big ears. (Hence my corgi obsession.)
(This is a rehabilitated bat that Bat Conservation International has cared for.)
We are very lucky to have this incredible population here in the great state of Texas, where anyone can go and see it. Bracken Cave is a truly incredible place on earth, and it’s all ours, Texans. Open to the public on summer evenings, Bracken is a place you should definitely check out! Prepare to be wow-ed.
FYI on the facilities: there is a gravel parking area, road, and shaded viewing area with benches that face the mouth of the cave. The bats emerge and fly in the opposite direction of where you are sitting. A gravel trail will take you to the other side of the cave for a closer look.
Photos by the talented Whitney Martin.
For more information on the cave, visit www.batcon.org/bracken. You can even watch the bat emergence from via webcam from the comforts of your air conditioned living room!