It’s hot, you’ve done everything on your summer bucket list, and the kids are driving you batty. So why not load up the car and spend an evening with real bats?!
Some people make it a goal to see national parks, presidential libraries, or ballparks. Us? We’re hitting bat colonies. Last summer, we saw the largest colony of bats—and the largest collection of mammals in the world—emerge for its nightly flight. This summer, we ventured to the Frio River to see the second-largest bat colony in the world—that’s 12 million bats, if you’re wondering, flying directly over your head.
It might seem like we’re some sort of strange bat addicts, but I promise, we’re not. Being close to that many little winged creatures and their fangs was never on my bucket list. But it now stands as one of the neatest things we’ve done as we explore and adventure with our five-year-old nature lover.
It’s amazing to sit and listen to the sound of their wings as they fly out looking for their dinner. Yes, you can actually hear their wings. There are so many of them that even though they’re tiny, together they’re a force to enjoy. And as for the dinner they’re in search of, they have no interest in you. They actually don’t begin to eat until they’re two to three miles away, so they don’t stop for photo ops or pay any attention to the two-legged mammals watching them.
Last summer, we had the incredible opportunity to watch as many as 20 million Mexican Free Tail bats emerge at sunset from their cozy (stinky, dirty, filled with bugs and guano, the fancy name for bat poo) cave in Bracken. The bats call Bracken home from March to September each year, then migrate to Mexico for the winter. And thanks to Bat Conservation International, you can watch them take off on their nightly journey as they eat more than their weight in insects for dinner each night.
So when I heard that the second-largest collection of bats in the world—that mere 12 million I mentioned—were just a short drive away from San Antonio, we hit the road. Also Mexican Free Tails, the bats roost in Frio Cave on private property near Concan, a small town west of San Antonio that is home to the gorgeous Frio River. Frio Bat Flight is located in a remote area (in other words, no cell service—yes, those places actually still exist) that reminds you once again of the beauty of the great state of Texas.
Like the Bracken colony, the bats at Frio are a maternal colony: mom bats who come up to Texas to have their babies together. Dad bats are bachelors who hang out together in their own colonies, partying it up until it’s time to go back to Mexico, knock up some lady bats, and produce offspring they don’t have to care for. Occasionally, a bachelor makes his way into the maternal colony, but ultimately, the mamas run him off. Who has time to deal with that when you have a baby bat to care for?!
If you’re interested in checking out the Frio Cave, you can find all of the details you need here. It was almost a two-hour drive from our home in Schertz, so we stopped for dinner on Highway 90 in Hondo, the biggest of the towns you’ll drive through on your way out to Concan. Things to know before you go:
- You must book your tour in advance. The website has all of the details you need.
- Children are welcome. The night we went, there were babies and toddlers along for the fun. Know that you’re in for a late night, but they’ll also be worn out and sleep in the car on the way home.
- Bats like remote areas and you’re really remote—no cell service and no bathrooms at the cave site. The bats do their business in the cave, but visitors commune with nature. In other words, my five-year-old had a blast “watering” some cacti on the other side of the hill.
- While we value bats for their insatiable appetite for insects, they don’t start dining until they’re further away from the cave, so be sure to bring bug spray.
- We had a great time roaming around the area—all allowed by Frio Bat Flight—and I recommend closed-toe shoes if you want to explore.
- There are rock benches you can sit on, but we brought chairs along. They try to time the tours as close to the bats’ emergence that they can, but these are live animals, not a scheduled show. They come out when they feel like it, so you might have to wait a bit.
- You’ll want to have water or other beverages with you. Just be sure you clean up after yourself.
If you’re not up for a batty road trip, there is an opportunity to see bats closer to home at Bat Loco Bash on the San Antonio River Museum Reach on Tuesday, August 9th. The event will be held at the intersection of Camden and Newell Streets, where a bachelor colony of about 50,000 bats lives under the Camden Street Bridge. Last year, the bachelors didn’t show up for their bash—the event was held, but no bats were home—but everything looks good so far this year. Hosted by the San Antonio River Authority, Texas Parks and Wildlife and Bat Conservation International, Bat Loco Bash is free and open to the public.
Thanks to the bats’ migratory patterns and the caves we have in our area, there are other places to see bats near us, including the world’s largest urban colony of 1.5 million under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin.
If you’re into bats, where do you like to go to get batty? Let me know where else we should visit to check out our little winged friends.