By KAROLYN GEPHART
Every summer night, hundreds of people gather to see the world’s largest urban bat colony emerge from under the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin, Texas.
Now they can do the same thing in Pearland.
People can visit Pearland’s Fite Road Bridge bat colony at sunset to view bats leaving their roost for the night.
The maternal colony boasts more than 10,000 Mexican Free-tailed bats. Since the young bat pups within the colony are unable to take flight at this time, a new observation area has been set up for July and August well before sunset when hungry mother bats and their pups begin emerging.
According to Parks and Rec, the City recently installed interpretive signage along the Mary’s Creek trail – across the street from the Stella Roberts Recycling Center. It is strongly encouraged that all public viewing take place from this designated location as bats are a protected animal species and it’s important humans keep a safe distance.
Mexican Free Tailed bats are the most common bats found in Texas.
This type of bat has wide, set apart ears to help them find prey with echolocation. They have been clocked at 60 mph at 10,000 feet. They winter in Mexico and then the males and females migrate and roost separately.
Bats live under bridges, in dark caves, trees, abandoned mines and buildings. The world’s largest known bat colony is located at Bracken Cave in Central Texas with an estimated 20 million bats.
More than 1,300 species of bats around the world provide ecological roles that are vital to the health of natural ecosystems and human economies. For example up to 95 percent of pioneer plants grow from seeds dispersed by bats in cleared Latin American rainforests.
Bats pollinate more than 500 species of plants and bats save US farmers $23 billion annually in pesticides and reduce crop damage.
For more information on bats in Pearland, go to the Parks and Rec website at www.pearlandtx.gov.