On Halloween 2009, a San Antonio Spurs basketball game was interrupted by a new player. This rookie could fly across the court and exhibited agility that had never been witnessed in pro basketball. Unfortunately for the Spurs, this rookie player was only a couple of inches tall, but had a decent wingspan. This player did scare some of the players though. Not because they were a tough opponent, but because it was a Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis). This wasnt the last time bats made a professional sports appearance, because they were spotted at another game in January 2019.
The typical arena has many openings and gates that are accessible for something as small and nimble as a bat. Many bats only need a tiny entry point to gain access and then fly into the rafters to find a suitable roosting spot. The bat that interrupted the 2009 game was likely trying to escape, but was disoriented by all of the lights and people. Bats rely on light cues and echolocation to find their way; cues which were complicated by spotlights and 30,000 screaming fans.
Why are bats drawn to places like arenas and sports stadiums?
- The insides of arenas have a lot of nooks and crannies for hiding.
- While bats can be raucous at night, theyre often quiet during the day when they are sleeping and resting.
- The bright lights around an arena can attract flying insects like moths, which might then attract hungry bats.
The reasons bats enter arenas might also be why they are often found in large warehouses, abandoned homes, and other human structures. They find some warmth and safety from predators and they move right in! These human-made structures share features with bats natural habitats, such as stable temperatures, dark conditions and a quiet environment.
At BCI we encourage arena operators to remember that nature is all around us. Games have been interrupted by pigeons and other birds, and the visiting Portland Trail Blazers even found a snake once in their locker room! While we understand no one wants patrons subjected to hundreds of bats or other creatures, they are a fun distraction. However, bats shouldnt be handled with bare hands due to the (very small) risk of rabies infection, so we recommend personnel use a towel or sturdy gloves when picking up bats.
We applaud the Spurs (and other organizations) efforts to capture bats safely with nets and release them outside. We encourage all organizations to do the same, and not to stoke unnecessary fears about these magical and important creatures.