One of the coolest things I have ever witnessed, and I just want to reiterate here that it is only one of the coolest things, is the bat flight at Carlsbad Caverns. Yeah, bats. Thousands of them. Flying over your head.
My first thought when I was sitting in the amphitheater in front of the cave opening was I was going to get covered with bat guano from an aerial attack, but the National Park Ranger assured us that there was nothing to fear. So we sat there, and waited. For what, I wasn’t sure.
Each evening , during the summer (from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October) Brazilian, also know as Mexican, free-tail bats fly out of the Cavern to feast on insects along the Pecos River. They can predict the start time within a few minutes each evening and when I was there in the early 80’s it went off right as scheduled. Every morning the bats return after their all night feast. Since they return between 5 and 7 am, I’ve never seen that phenomenon, but I hear it’s just as impressive. Bats diving from hundreds of feet up to 40 miles per hour. By mid-October they head South for the winter to Mexico returning again in April or May depending on the weather.
So you’re sitting there at the cave opening listening to the Park Ranger’s spiel, and you start to hear some rustling, then the sound grows and a bat or two will emerge from the cave entrance. You’re thinking, “wow, this is it?” Then, all of a sudden, like a black smoke cloud, thousands of bats fly out and gain altitude. It goes on for a few minutes and you can see the black cloud as it moves out over the desert. You would think that there would be a few stragglers, you know, a bat or two that wants to investigate the humans sitting below. But no, nothing at all like that, although I don’t think the ranger guaranteed that it wouldn’t happen.
Bats are a primary source of U.S. human rabies, but no one had ever died from a bat bite until last year in Louisiana. It was made public today, August 12, 2011, that a 19-year-old male was the first human to die from a vampire bat bite in the United States, ever. He was bitten by the bat in his home in Michoacan, Mexico.
So what’s the difference between a vampire bat and a free-tail bat? As the name implies, the vampire bat lives on blood. “I vant to suck your blood.” It mostly attacks sleeping mammals at night and sucks their blood. The free-tail bat, on the other hand, is an insectivore. It eats moths, beetles, dragon flies, and the like, usually while they’re both in flight. Kind of like an insect/bat dog fight. Anyway, the death of the Mexican man in Louisiana is what made me remember my, thankfully, few encounters with bats. Carlsbad Caverns being the one, and this is the other.
When we lived in Sheridan, Wyoming, on Burkitt Street, we had bats that lived in our attic. I don’t know what type they were, but I’m pretty sure they were insectivores. Once, since they can’t really see, one accidentally flew into the house one warm summer evening following one of my younger sisters through the open screen door. My lord it sounded like a mass murder was taking place in there from the screams being emitted by the women folk. The men folk weren’t being very brave either. Me, being the oldest male folk in attendance, was given the task of extricating the invader from the house. My weapon: a broom.
As the rest of the household cowered in fear, I started ducking and swaying, swinging the broom several times as the bat circled the kitchen. I finally made contact. The bat fell to the floor stunned. Bats are ug-ly. Trust me, if you haven’t ever seen one. I almost screamed when I looked at it close up. I started sweeping the bat towards the back screen door. He was having nothing of that and started to get to his feet. I smacked him again with the broom. And again. Kept sweeping him towards the door.
“Open the screen door,” I screamed at one of the younger siblings. “Now.”
As soon as the door opened, I executed one of my best slap shots and the bat was hurled into the back yard. He staggered around for a few minutes, then took off, quickly, gaining altitude until he was out of sight.
So those are my bat stories. I hear people make bat houses to encourage bats to move into their neighborhoods. I wonder why?