Volume 38
Issue 1
Courtesy of Michael Durham / Minden Pictures

Mention the Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) at your next cocktail party and you will have no shortage of fun tidbits to share. These bats, no larger than your two thumbs together, are the fastest mammals on earthclocking in at 99 mph (160 kph) in level flight. They can fly as high as 10,000 feet and forage on tons of harmful pest insects each and every nightsaving farmers millions of dollars in the process. And these bats love companyforming massive colonies that number in the hundreds of thousands, with the largest known maternity colony reaching nearly 20 million bats.

People naturally have an affinity for this bat because its a species that provides beautiful outflights, which give people a chance to have a personal experience, remarks Mylea Bayless, BCIs Senior Director of Network and Partnerships.

These outflights, like the one from beneath Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas, or at Bracken Cave just down the road in San Antonio, can last for hours. Tourists flock from around the globe to get a first-hand experience of these spectacular displays. In fact, it is estimated that these bat tourists bring in over 10 million dollars of tourist revenue each year to Austin.

We love this bat because its relatively common and we know so much about its life history and behavior. Unlike other species, it has been the subject of lots of research, giving us a glimpse into the life of a bat, says Bayless.

And what a life it is.