Friday, July 20, 2007

Bat Burst

As a bio teacher I often look for the naturalist angle of the places we visit. The flora and fauna are never far from my mind, eyes, and ears. As for Carlsbad, I didn't have to search to fulfill this need since one of the most spectacular natural sights takes place here at sunset from April to October.

Deep within the caverns roost over 300,000 Mexican free-tailed bats. In a manner that "biologists" still don't quite understand, sometime around sunset all these bats leave the caves in a twirling, tornado pattern (like smoke from a cauldron). In all, it takes around 30 minutes for all of them to vacate and venture out to feed on moths and other insects within a 60 mile radius.

For this treat, we gathered with around 500 people in a well-manicured amphitheater at the mouth of the cave. After a 30 minute presentation by a park ranger, the flight began. While the crowd was asked to be silent during the exodus, there was an uncontrollable "ooohhh" as the first bats began to exit. The cloud of bats was immense and seemed to form a smoke-like trail. It was truly a sight to behold.

The bats return to the cave at sunrise in a different manner--more individualized (some diving at a rate of 40 miles per hour into the natural entrance). While we wanted to witness this as well, we weren't able to because of a construction project taking place at the caverns. Maybe next time?

By the way, why are there no pictures of bats shown here? Well, electronic devices mess up the bats' echolocation, of course! Check out the link to view park-sanctioned pictures.



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