The Fate of Houston’s Bat Population Hangs in the Balance

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Tony Maples Photography


One of the creatures that were greatly impacted during  Hurricane Harvey were the bats who call Houston their home. Houston is home to millions of Mexican free-tailed bats, who, during the summer months, roost under the bridges that cross some of inner-city Houston’s biggest bayous. These bayous, unfortunately, are the same bayous that you most certainly saw on the news (or in person) swelling in spectacular fashion, swallowing up bike paths, street lights, and bridges during the hurricane. Some of the victims of this monumental flooding were the various bat colonies near downtown Houston.

Not an Easy Escape

Houston bats

Photo: Flickr/Norm Lanier

Many may have thought that the bats simply flew off ahead of the dangerous flooding but this, sadly, isn’t the case. Many bats drowned in Harvey’s flood waters and this is why: Bat flight isn’t as easy as it looks. Bats’ take-off requires a vertical drop from their roost, which is all but impossible as flood waters quickly rose all around the bridges during the storm.

Luckily, there were groups of human heroes who remembered the bats and worried about their safety in the aftermath of the storm. Bat World Sanctuary, a non-profit group out of Weatherford, Texas, near Fort Worth, deployed rescuers to Houston and is still working with local volunteers offering rabies vaccinations and syringes with bat food to the displaced bats.

A Slow Recovery for Bat Colonies in Houston

Houston bat

Photo: Flickr/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

Mylea Bayless, partnerships director for Austin-based Bat Conservation International, says the population will bounce back, albeit slowly.

“Bats are long-lived and slow to reproduce however, having only one pup per year,” she says. “Their populations will recover more slowly than other types of animals. Mexican free-tailed bats, the species that lives within the Waugh Drive Bridge, are relatively abundant compared to other less visible species. This will help the colony recover, and also one of the things that makes them so special. That they are abundant and roost in large groups allowing us to witness their spectacular and inspiring emergences.”