MISSION — As Mindy Schroeder was driving over the Conway and Expressway 83 overpass August 6 she drove into a cloud of what she thought were birds. But it was dusk and most birds were already roosting.
The animals avoided her car with the acrobatic excellence of an Olympic gymnast. And Schroeder said there were thousands of them. To clarify, there were thousands of bats that found a home in a niche in the overpass where a small eve overlaps the decorative rock.
Since then, Schroeder said she has gone to the Foy’s parking lot every night to watch the bats.
“I’ve been going every night and telling everyone on Facebook and they are calling me the crazy bat lady,” she said with a laugh. “It’s been a real fun experience.”
University of Texas-Pan American Professor Scott Gunn said he is 90 percent certain that the colony roosting under the overpass are Mexican Free-Tail bats.
They are the same species Austin’s Congress Street Bridge is famous for having. They are also Texas’ official state bat.
“While the colony has probably been here a lot longer than we know, people I’ve talked to, and as far as I can tell, say it hasn’t been here that long,” Gunn said. “This is probably just a colony built up because of some stress somewhere else that has moved them out of that area or it’s just a growth in population.”
Whatever the reason, Gunn said the species is a great neighbor to have because of positive impacts the bats contribute to agriculture.
“One-third of their diets is moths,” he said. “So it really does have a positive impact on agriculture and for humans.”
Outside of the spectacle that the bats provide when they leave their roost, Schroeder said she also likes the fact that they eat bugs.
“It’s really neat to see nature in the middle of town. It’s not like the bat cave in Austin, but these bats come out every night,” she said. “Every child that has come out from three years old to 16 years old just stands there with their mouths open.
“It’s the coolest sight to see because you don’t run into much nature anymore, unless you looking for it.”
Gunn said the spectacle the bats bring to Mission is a real treasure as he thinks it could turn into a tourist event.
“It’s a thrill for most people as they don’t get to see this in their own area,” he said. “To see it in the urban environment and to know they are out there hunting in your fields and your yards and in your area, is a great feeling.”
But he is also scientifically curious about the species and hopes to positively identify them as well as figure out how long they’ve been there.
To be 100 percent sure they are Mexican Free-Tail bats, Gunn said the tiny-winged mammals need to have an exposed tail. Many bats either don’t have a tail or the tail is inside a membrane and not exposed, he said.
Figuring out how long the bats have been roosting in Mission is going to be a little dirtier.
“By measuring the depth of guano (bat poop) you can determine how long they’ve been there and how many there are,” Gunn said. “But it’s not an exact science.”
Now all blood-sucking bat stereotypes aside, there is one major rule to remember about enjoying our new neighbors: leave them alone.
“These are not blood suckers. They don’t bite humans unless you go pick them up and some may have rabies. So there’s a great reason to stay away,” Gunn said. “But they don’t want anything to do with humans. They will do things to their detriment to avoid people, like flying into things.”
To see the bats, go to Foy’s supermarket’s parking lot, located at Conway and Expressway 83, at sundown and enjoy.
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.