Geoff Brooks

Bat viewing sites around the world

Orient Mine

Between 1880 and 1932, the Orient Mine in south central Colorado was the largest iron ore producer in the state. At its peak, the mine had two associated town sites with a total population of 400 people. Today, the mine’s seasonal bat residents far surpass the historical records of human dwellers in the area.

The sweeping open landscape in the San Luis Valley allows bat-watchers to keep clear of the mine’s entrance. Photo courtesy of Uncover Colorado.
Mexican free-tailed bats. Bat Conservation International.

An estimated quarter-million Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) migrate to the Orient Mine each year in warm weather months to rise from the mine’s entrance each evening to sweep over the majestic San Luis Valley and feast on bountiful insects. 

Until recent years, bat viewers stood near a fence at one of the entrances to the mine to watch the bats exit into the night. Proximity to the mine is not recommended at this time. Colorado Parks and Wildlife have closed the mine due to the threats of White-nose syndrome, a debilitating fungus that causes bats to rouse from hibernation and expend necessary body fat during winter months when insect prey is unavailable. White-nose syndrome has resulted in the deaths of millions of North American bat species over a decade and continues to decimate bat colonies. It is not transmissible to humans but humans can transmit the fungus to bats.

The San Luis Valley region is known for its vast views. Find a spot at dusk, from a distance, to watch the bats ascend like a fluttering ribbon into the night sky.

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  • In the vicinity of the Orient Mine, Great Sand Dunes National Park offers towers of explorable sand dunes, some as tall as 750 feet high, set against a backdrop of rugged 14,000-foot peaks in Sangre de Cristo mountains. The national park and preserve have been recognized by the International Dark Sky Association as a “Dark Sky Park.” 
  • In addition to migratory Brazilian free-tailed bats, there are 18 bat species within the state of Colorado. Brazilian free-tailed bats are also known as Mexican free-tailed bats.
  • Email Colorado Parks and Wildlife to check on the status of the mine. The state agency asks for 48 hours to respond.
  • The Orient Land Trust – which works in partnership with federal and state agencies as well as conservation organizations to protect natural resources in the area – may also be a good source for information on visiting the area. 
  • The Orient Trust offers high-elevation, rustic accommodations in relative proximity to the mine. Note, that there are no nearby gas stations, restaurants, pharmacies, grocery, or general stores. All properties, including the Trust’s trails and ponds, are clothing optional.
  • In the broader area,  a free visitor guide provides recommendations on accommodations, restaurants, and additional places to see in the region.  

Old Tunnel

In the smallest of Texas state parks, in a historic railroad tunnel of only 920 feet, three million bats compactly roost during warm summer days to emerge in the evening to the delight of bat viewers.

OLD TUNNEL ENTRANCE
Millions of bats stream from Old Tunnel. Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
OLD TUNNEL EMERGENCY.
Bat flight at Old Tunnel is impressive. Photograph by Nyta Brown. Courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

From 1917  to 1942, railroad travelers on the San Antonio, Fredericksburg, and Northern Railway glided through an impressive dark tunnel. When the rail line closed permanently, scores of migratory bats glided in.

Today Old Tunnel is the summer roost for an estimated three million Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) and 1,000 to 3,000 cave myotis (Myotis velifer). Bats emerge nightly, weather permitting, between May and October. However, the size of the colony varies through the season. Peak numbers of bats are generally seen from mid-August into the first weeks of September.

Old Tunnel is considered a pseudo-maternity roost. Because the tunnel is open at both ends and temperatures are unstable, bat pups are not born in the tunnel but in nearby caves or bridges. Pregnant bats roost in Old Tunnel until they are ready to give birth. Lactating bat moms return to Old Tunnel with their bat pups.

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  • Tickets are required for everyone, including children, in the state park after 5 PM.
  • Nearby Fredericksburg, where Old Tunnel is located, is becoming increasingly popular for its agritourism. Travelers to the area often visit wineries, peach tree groves, herb farms, and lavender fields before bat viewing in the evening.  
  • Also, check out other Texas bat-viewing sites. Of note, Texas is home to 32 of 47 bat species found in the United States.   

Nickajack Cave

Glide across the water by kayak, canoe, or paddleboard toward the entrance of Nickajack Cave. Then, remain still in the water as thousands of bats emerge from the partially submerged cave entrance to fly across the water toward you.

Kayakers gather on the water to watch the bats emerge. Photo courtesy of Chatanooga Guiding Adventures.

Historic Nickajack Cave, partially flooded by its namesake lake, is considered a significant natural landmark in Tennessee for its shelter of Endangered bats, geological features, ecological importance, and history. The cave is home to significant populations of bats, including two federally Endangered species: the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) and the gray bat (Myotis grisescens). At sundown during warm weather months, an estimated 100,000 bats stream from the cave’s entrance for 45 to 60 minutes, flying close to the water before moving upwards for their nightly meal of insects. 

Nickajack Cave is located about 25 miles from downtown Chattanooga. The limestone cave is in the Tennessee River Gorge, a scenic canyon known for its rugged beauty and biodiversity. Nickajack Cave once served as a shelter for Native Americans and, later, was a hideout for river pirates. The cave was also mined for saltpeter, used for making gunpowder, in both the War of 1812 and for the Confederacy in the Civil War. The cave and surrounding area were flooded in 1967-1968 when the Tennessee Valley Authority built dams for water storage and power generation.

Nickajack Cave is one of the largest caves in Tennessee, extending for over six miles. Before the lake existed, the entrance once measured 140 feet in width by 50 feet in height. Since the formation of Nickajack Lake, the entrance to the cave has been restricted to 20 to 25 feet. In 1992 the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency designated Nickajack Cave as the state’s first non-game wildlife refuge.

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  • Non-motorized watercraft – kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards – are available for rent through Chattanooga Guided Adventures, Viator, and other concessionaires. Guided group tours are also available.
  • Bat viewing is also available on foot from the Maple View parking lot. Visitors traverse a 1,000-foot boardwalk through the woods to an observation platform.

Monfort Bat Cave

Is it any wonder that two million fruit bats are perfectly content on a lush “resort island?”  Samal Island, also known as the “Island Garden City of Samal,” is the largest resort destination in the Philippines. Crystal-clear waters with beaches of white sand and verdant blossoming vegetation everywhere make this an island paradise – for humans and bats.

Geoffroy’s rousette bat. Bat Conservation International.

Monfort Bat Cave on Samal Island holds a remarkable distinction: it’s home to the world’s largest colony of Geoffroy’s rousette bats (Rousettus amplexicaudatus), a species of megabats found throughout Southeast Asia, Oceania, and other locations. Geoffroy’s bats feed on fruits and also sip nectar, and are valued as one of the main pollinators of the island’s vegetation and plantations in Davao City on the mainland

The bat cave is part of the Monfort Bat Sanctuary with over 50 acres of protected land owned by Norma Monfort and her family. The property has been developed into an active conservancy and eco-park with views of the sea, the neighboring islands, and native greenery. Lectures, seminars, and workshops are available.

Visitors to Monfort Bat Cave peer into one of five cave entrances. There, in the darkness of the relatively small cave, roost up to two million mega-sized bats packed tightly together. At an estimated density of 645 bats per square meter, visitors often comment on their perception of a “ceiling carpet of bats.” As dusk falls, visitors are awestruck as a seemingly endless stream of large, powerful bats pour out of the cave to forage for fruits and flowers.

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  • Philippine travel agencies should be consulted for the most up-to-date information on this destination.
  • Entrance to the Monfort Bat Cave requires a small fee (typically about $2.50 in American dollars) and a modest environmental tax.  
  • Island cottages which face the Davao Gulf are available as well as more conventional accommodations.
  • Getting to the island requires a short ferry ride. The most prominent way to get around the island is by habal-habal (motorcycles).  

Millie Hill Mine

Get out your handheld trail-finding app. You’re going to need it to find the Millie Hill Mine. (Slightly confusingly, this destination is also called the Millie Mine Bat Cave.)

Big brown bat. Photo by Michael Durham / Minden Pictures.

Located on Iron Mountain, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, this bat-viewing destination is considered one of several significant bat hibernation sites in the Midwest to view migrating little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) and big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus).

At one time this abandoned iron mine was considered a safety hazard and was scheduled to be sealed off. Just in time, conservation groups and local businesses joined together to construct a steel structure over the mine shaft to allow bats to fly in and out freely and to keep people at a safe distance.

Travelers to Iron Mountain and locals in nearby towns report seeing hundreds of thousands of bats exit the mine at dusk during peak migration times. The best viewing times are April to May and September to October.

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Mabul Island

Traveling to this remote island to witness the majestic and immense size of the island’s best-known bat species, the variable flying fox (Pteropus hypomelanus) would earn you some extra bat-viewing points – if we were counting.

Lucas’s Short-nosed Fruit Bat (Penthetor lucasi) roosting, Bukit Sarang Conservation Area, Bintulu, Borneo, Malaysia

If you’re aware of Mabul Island, we’re guessing you’ve heard about it for its crystal-clear turquoise waters, its spectacular coral reefs, and its reputation for ultimate snorkeling and diving experiences. If you actually know Mabul Island, you know that bat viewing is also one of the compelling reasons to visit this remote island off the coast of Malaysia.

Getting to Mabul isn’t easy – but worth it. From Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur Airport, travelers fly to the Tawau airport, then are transported by a land vehicle for 90 minutes, and then loaded onto a speedboat for a 45-minute ride across scenic and sometimes choppy water

Mabul is a marine nirvana with colorful coral gardens and an abundance of exotic fish and the bonus of sightings of some of the largest bats in the world.  With average wingspans of nearly four feet, island travelers note how large colonies of flying fox hang visibly in roost trees in the daylight and marvel over the sight of these huge bats as they take flight.

Flying foxes are ‘frugi-nectarivorous,’ meaning that they depend on fruits and the nectar of flowers as important food sources. The bats, in turn, provide crucial ecosystem services as dispersers of seeds across long distances and as pollinators. The bats help maintain healthy mangroves which are necessary for healthy coral reefs and fish populations.

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  • Malaysia is part of the “Coral Triangle,” identified as having the world’s richest marine biodiversity. Coral diversity in Peninsular Malaysia, where Mabul Island is located, contains over 480 coral species.
  • Mabul Island accommodations range between high-end luxury resorts to a broad selection of fancy and bare-bones bungalows, many of which rest on stilts above the water. Find Mabul travel information here.

La Gruta de Quintero

Where do Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) go when they leave their summer roosts in the American Southwest?

Mexican Free-tailed Bat. @ Bat Conservation International.

What we witness at Bracken Cave, Frio Cave, Carlsbad Caverns and other summer roosts – millions of Mexican free-tail bats in nightly emergence – becomes somewhat elusive in the winter when the bats head south.  Where do millions of migratory bats roost? How far do they travel?

In the 1950s and 1960s, researchers banded large numbers of Mexican free-tailed bats in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Oklahoma to get a good sense of where the migratory bats traveled to and from. Years later, researchers refined their work and identified three winter roosts in Mexico: Cueva de La Boca in the Mexican state of Nuevo León, and Cueva de La Isla Janitzio in Michoacán, and an estimated colony of 10,000 bats at La Gruta de Quintero in Tamaulipas.

Bat Conservation International,  the National Park Service at Carlsbad Caverns, and other partners continue research on the wintering patterns of Mexican free-tail bats in these locations. The National Park Service notes:

“The fact is that despite being one of the most numerous mammals in the Southwest, the whereabouts and status of winter populations of these animals are still largely unknown. Learning the answers to these questions is of great interest for ecologists and natural resource stewards, who cannot develop sound conservation strategies without some knowledge of the bats’ winter habits.”

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  • La Gruta de Quintero is located in the southern part of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. The nearest city is Mante and the nearest small town is Quintero. Consult Visit Mexico for travel information and advisories.

Kasanka National Park

Imagine a small and lush African forest the size of two or three football fields. Then, imagine millions of fruit bats migrating to this forest each year to rise up, up, and up into the night.  

Bat viewing sites, international
Straw-colored fruit bats take to the air at Kasanka National Park, Zambia. Photo by Dr. Brett Lewis / Kasanka Trust.
Bat viewing sites, international
Lodging to view bats is located near Wasa Lake at Kasanka National Park, Zambia. Photo by Dr. Brett Lewis / Kasanka Trust.

In Kasanka National Park, between October and December, an increasing number of travelers gather to witness the extraordinary sight of African straw-colored bats (Eidolon helvum) flying from their daytime roosts in a swampy evergreen forest to forage through the night.  

Every year, the big fruit bats – with wingspans up to three feet –  migrate from the nearby rainforests of the Congo to Kasanka National Park in Northern Zambia. During the day, the bats densely roost, shoulder-to-shoulder, in the small patch of forest.  

As the sky darkens, they take flight to forage for ripe oval berries, mangoes, wild loquats, and other wild fruits, gorging themselves on as much as four pounds of fruit each night. Three months later, the bats begin their return migration, spreading seeds through their droppings and serving a vital part in regenerating plant growth in the region.

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  • Kasanka is one of Zambia’s smallest national parks. It is located in a region of rivers, lakes, wetlands, meadows, and forests. The diverse landscape supports a variety of wildlife.
  • There are approximately three dozen species of bats in the region including migratory African straw-colored bats. 
  • The not-for-profit Kasanka Trust, working in collaboration with Zambia tourism agencies, offers information on how to experience Kasanka National Park and bat viewing. The Kasanka Trust operates the Wasa Lodge, the nearest accommodations to bat-viewing sites. Visit Kasanka Trust or email internationalres@kasanka.com.
Straw-colored Fruit Bat. Photo by Steve Gettle / Minden Pictures.

Straw-colored fruit bat. (Eidolon helvum)

African straw-colored bats are distinctive with pale yellowish fur on their backsides, tawny olive and brownish fur on their undersides and long black wings that can span nearly three feet. Light coloring and their size provide an exceptional viewing experience under the stars on the high plateaus of south-central Africa.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers the African straw-colored bat as “threatened.” Water extraction, deforestation, and commercial agriculture are among the issues that threaten bats and other wildlife.

Eckhert James River Bat Cave

In the heart of Texas, an hour’s drive northwest of Fredericksburg, the Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve is the summer roosting place for four to six million Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis).

Bat Viewing Site. Eckhert James River. Texas. The Nature Conservancy.
Viewers sit near the entrance of the Eckhert James River Cave. Photo by Jaqueline Ferrato, courtesy of The Nature Conservancy.

In 1907, Richard Phillip Eckert and his wife Virginia Eckert Garrett purchased the limestone cave and ranch site and mined the bat guano to sell to local farmers for crop fertilizer. The cave and ranch were later donated to The Nature Conservancy of Texas with one condition that the site remain open to the public.

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  • The Nature Conservancy and Bat Conservation International developed a cooperative management plan that prevents human entrance to the cave during maternal activity, controls visitation, monitors the bat population, and protects the cave’s opening. Scientific research in the cave is conducted year-round.
  • May through September, the preserve serves as an educational platform to teach visitors about the importance of bats.
  • Visitor info is found here and here.
  • Check out other Texas bat-viewing sites. Of note, Texas is home to 32 of 47 bat species found in the United States.

Hartman’s Cave

Hartsman’s Cave, once teeming with healthy colonies of common bats, illustrates how bat populations have been impacted by a fungus that affects only bats. The cave is currently closed.

Northern long-eared bat. Photo by Dave Thomas. Courtesy of the USGS.

Hartsman’s Cave in northeastern Pennsylvania offers a case study of the devastating impact White-nose syndrome has had on formerly healthy bat populations. Located within the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the cave was once a thriving winter shelter for several species of hibernating bats including little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus), big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus), tricolored bats (Perimyotis subflavus), and Northern long-eared bats (Myotis septentrionalis).

White-nose syndrome is a cruel fate, an invasive fungus that causes bats to unnaturally rouse from hibernation and expend the vital body fat they need to get through winter months when insect prey is nonexistent. The harsh and graphic truth is that as many as 90 percent of bats, exposed to WNS within their colonies, succumb to slow starvation and the pains of freezing. Over the last decade, millions of North American bats have succumbed. 

Pennsylvania wildlife managers, conservation groups, and recreational cave explorers detected White-nose syndrome in Hartsman’s Cave in 2010. Despite many types of intervention, the number of bats in the cave has continued to dwindle significantly. A gate at the cave’s entrance was added to restrict public exploration but allows bats to fly in and out of the cave without impediments. Proximity near the cave has also been restricted.

White-nose syndrome is not transmissible to humans but humans can transmit the fungus to bats. Spores of the fungus are found to cling to clothes, shoes, and gear, and remain viable for a long time. Anyone who visits multiple caves is encouraged to follow WNS decontamination procedures.

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  • Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2008 to protect varied wildlife species, particularly species determined to be at risk or listed as federally Endangered. It also serves as a significant flyaway for the conservation of migratory raptors and 140 bird species.

Gomatong Caves

Ecotourism and bat guano are commonly associated with Gomantong Caves. On occasion, the cave is temporarily closed for harvesting and science purposes. Check with Sabah tour operators for timely updates.

Gomantong Caves. Wikimedia commons

Gomantong Caves is a series of nine limestone caves that shelters Wrinkle-lipped free-tailed bats (Chaerephon plicatus), Malaysian roundleaf bats (Hipposideros cervinus), and a healthy population of cave swiftlets (Collocalia linchi). Cave swiftlets are fast-flying small birds. Only one of the caves – a large dark cave with soaring, arching ceilings and slim shafts of sunlight – is open for public tours.

Conservation managers on the island of Borneo in the South China Sea are tasked with promoting responsible tourism practices that minimize impacts on the cave-dwelling species and preserve traditional native ways of harvesting bat guano. Guano is harvested for fertilizer.

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  • Situated in Sabah in the northeast region of Borneo, Gomantong Caves are located within a forest reserve that is home to orangutans and proboscis monkeys. Exotic birds, like the Asian Paradise Flycatcher, can be spotted on the walk to the Gomantong Caves
  • In the cave, look up, but watch your step. Visitors to the public cave traverse a slightly elevated boardwalk which can be slippery with bat and bird droppings. Narrow streams of light, which pierce through the cave’s limestone, reveal the guano-covered cave floor teaming with beetles, cockroaches, centipedes, and scorpions

Frio Cave

Frio Cave, like all bat emergence sites, offers extraordinary perspectives of circle-of-life drama when the hunters, the bats, become hunted by birds of prey and other predators.

Bat Viewing Site. Frio Cave. Texas.
Bats rise above Frio Cave. Photo by Thomas Kunz, Boston University. Courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

As millions of bats emerge each night from Frio Cave to hunt for insects, birds of prey swoop and dive into the swirling moving mass of bats to latch onto their evening meal. Cave managers report seeing red-tailed hawks, zone-tailed hawks, and peregrine falcons circling the skies. On the ground, ring-tailed cats and skunks often wait at the cave’s entrance to snag their dinner.

Frio Cave is the seasonal migratory roost for ten million Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis), one of the largest colonies of migratory bats in the world, second only to Bracken Cave Preserve. Both caves are located in Texas Hill Country. Like Bracken Cave, female bats migrate from Central Mexico to Frio Cave during the spring to give birth and nurture their pups through the summer. Nightly, the bats fly from the cave for their daily nourishment, providing bat-viewing visitors with a remarkable experience.

To experience the bat emergence at Frio Cave requires reservations and modest admission fees. Guides escort visitors to an easily accessed hilltop location for optimum and informed viewing.

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  • Frio Cave is located in ConCan (pronounced coon-can) in Uvalde County, Texas. The rugged and sparsely populated region has become popular with outdoor travelers. Visitors often hike the trails in nearby Garner State Park or float the Frio River during daylight hours before heading to the bat-viewing site.
  • Accommodations and other amenities can be found here.
  • Texas is home to 32 of 47 bat species found in the United States.  Check out other Texas bat-viewing sites.

Devil’s Sinkhole

For those who like the spooky side of bats, Devil’s Sinkhole sets the scene. The name alone invites thrills, right? Add in some eerie haunting music as millions of bats emerge from a dark and gaping sinkhole and, well yes, you might have a scene straight out of a scary movie. (For the record, we think of bats as rather adorable, not scary.)

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Bats set the scene above Devil’s Sinkhole. Photograph courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Seasonally, against the backdrop of spectacular geologic formations, an estimated three million Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) emerge from Devil’s Sinkhole at dusk in search of insects to create a mesmerizing spectacle.

The sinkhole itself is a natural wonder worth seeing – from a distance. Formed over thousands of years, as acidic groundwater eroded the area’s limestone geology, the terrain collapsed to create the sinkhole. For safety reasons and the conservation of the bat colony, what you don’t see is a 50-foot wide shaft that drops 140 feet into a cavern that stretches over 320 feet in diameter and reaches a depth of 350 feet.

Inside the dark cavern where the migratory bats roost, other animal and plant life thrives. Three to four thousand cave swallows rest in the cavern at night when the bats are gone. Additionally, portions of the cave below the water table support unique crustaceans. Plus, a rare type of Mexican fern grows on the walls of the vertical shaft of the cave.

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  • May through October, the Devil’s Sinkhole Society provides bat flight tours.  Reservations and modest admission fees are required. The Devil’s Sinkhole Society also provides ranger talks, nature walks, and birding outings. Check out online details here.
  • The bat-viewing sinkhole is part of Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Conservation efforts are focused on protecting its bat population, preserving the sinkhole’s unique geological features, and providing educational opportunities for visitors.
  • Nearby Kickapoo Cavern State Park also offers nightly bat flight viewing and Saturday guided cave tours along with camping, hiking, and mountain biking options.
  • For more options, check out other Texas bat-viewing sites. Texas is home to 32 of 47 bat species found in the United States. 

Congress Avenue Bridge

Austin, Texas hosts the largest urban colony of bats in North America. Beginning in late March through early fall, millions of migratory Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) make their way to Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin.

Congress Avenue Bridge - Red Sunset.
A dramatic deep red sunset accentuates the bats in flight at Congress Avenue Bridge. Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

During the day, Austin’s seasonal bats roost compactly in the bridge’s joints and understructure. At sunset, they begin to emerge, delighting and surprising viewers as millions of bats – yes millions – take to the sky for their nightly meals of insects. Commonly overheard: how do that many bats fit under that bridge?

Austinites offer all sorts of tips on how to best experience Austin’s flying mammals: Arrive early, at least a half hour before sunset. Arrive even earlier to get coveted positions. Stake out a spot on the bridge that faces east. Or head to a grassy area at Austin American-Statesman’s Bat Observation Center on the southeast side of the bridge, and bring a blanket to claim a grassy spot. Lady Bird Lake, below the bridge, also offers excellent bat viewing. Bat cruises are available as well as kayak, canoe, and paddleboard rentals through several vendors. Just make certain you’re not paddling directly underneath the bats.

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  • San Antonio and Houston offer similar experiences from city bridges. Which Texas bridge offers the best urban bat-viewing experience? Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Camden Street Bridge in San Antonio, Waugh Bridge in Houston, or Watonga Boulevard Bridge in northwest Houston? (Ah, you thought we had a favorite?) We suggest you visit all of them.
  • Texas is home to 32 of 47 bat species found in the United States.
  • Many Texas zoos, nature centers, and parks offer seasonal bat talks and walks and bat-supporting gardening classes.

Clarity Tunnel

In Texas terms,  Clarity Tunnel might be called a “two-fer” destination for the two distinct experiences it provides.

Bats and moon infrared image.
Bats in flight, through infrared photography. Photo by Thomas Kunz, Boston University. Courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Located in Caprock Canyons State Park in the Texas Panhandle, Clarity Tunnel provides visitors with opportunities to walk through an abandoned historic railroad tunnel during the day and to later observe up to the 500,000 Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) in flight as the sun sets.

Visitors in the tunnel during the day may observe resting bats in the wooden trusses overhead and hear the bats’ soft fluttering sounds. The migratory bats seasonally inhabit the tunnel between late-April and mid-October with peak numbers of bats recorded in early September. Few pups are seen. Railroad tunnels, because they are open on both ends, do not make suitable bat nurseries because the internal temperatures and humidity levels are unstable.  

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  • Clarity Tunnel, also known as the Quitaque Railway Tunnel, was constructed in the late 1920s by mostly Irish and Swedish immigrants and opened for trains to operate by 1930. The tunnel was cut through the region’s sandstone. Originally the tunnel was nearly 800 feet long.  A trainwreck in 1973 closed the tunnel. Reconstruction crews upgraded the rails to handle heavier traffic and shortened its length to its current 582 feet.
  • The tunnel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and was designated a Texas State Antiquities Landmark in 2003.
  • Caprock Canyons State Park & Trailway offers bison viewing, camping, and 90 miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails in the rugged geology of the flat, high plains of the Llano Estacado to the west and the lower Rolling Plains to the east.
  • Texas is home to 32 of 47 bat species found in the United. States. Check out other Texas bat-viewing sites.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Find a seat and adjust your eyes. At sunset, during warm weather months, the sight of thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) streaming swiftly from the entrance of  Carlsbad Cavern into the night is not to be missed. 

Bat viewing site. National Park. New Mexico.
Visitors to Carlsbad Caverns view emerging bats from the park’s amphitheater. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.
Bat viewing site. Carlsbad Cavern. New Mexico. Cave formations.
Understanding cave systems helps us understand the wide array of bat habitats. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

At Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Brazilian free-tailed bats are certainly the stars of seasonal nightly bat flight programs. But, if you’re keen on bat identification, you’re also likely to see cave myotis (Myotis velifer) and fringed myotis (Myotis thysanodes) identified by their mouse-like ears, as they fly with free-tailed bats from the cavern’s entrance.  

Free bat flight programs are offered every evening, weather permitting, from Memorial Day weekend through October. Participants are seated in the Bat Flight Amphitheater located near the Natural Entrance to Carlsbad Cavern. Seating at the amphitheater is on a first-come-first-seated basis. 

National Park Service rangers provide a talk before bats begin their flight. Start times for the programs are based on the time the sun sets. To protect the bats, electronic devices of all kinds are not allowed at bat flight programs and in surrounding areas. The National Park Service notes that the behavior of bats changes when bats, accustomed to total darkness and silence, are disturbed by sounds and light. 

Seventeen bat species reside in this Chihuahuan Desert national park that sprawls between New Mexico’s Guadalupe Mountains and the Permian Basin in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Not all bats roost in the park’s famous caves. Eastern red bats (Lasiurus borealis) roost in the park’s trees. Canyon bats (Parastrellus hesperus) roost in rock cliffs and cracks throughout the desert landscape.

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  • Park tours, ranger talks, displays, and published materials offer excellent opportunities to understand caves and their importance. Hidden beneath the surface of the national park are 120 known caverns, possibly more, formed millions of years ago when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone.
  • Self-guided tours through the Big Room of the cave system are popular and require a timed pass to traverse a relatively flat trail through cave formations of all shapes and sizes. The Big Room is the one of largest single cave chambers in North America. 
  • To get to the Big Room, visitors take an elevator 750 feet below the ground or may opt to hike the steep and strenuous Nature Entrance Trail, which takes an average of an hour to complete.
  • What’s the difference between stalagmites and stalactites? Stalagmites grow from the ground up. (Note the “g” for ground in the name). Stalactites grow downward.
  • Visitors to the park should always reference the National Park Service’s up-to-date announcements regarding surface hiking, backcountry camping, and other access considerations
  • Hotels, RV parks, camping sites, and glamping options are available within proximity of the park.

Bracken Cave Preserve

Bracken Cave Preserve is home to the world’s largest known maternity colony of bats—an estimated 15 to 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis). Pregnant female bats migrate from Central Mexico to Bracken Cave each March and April to give birth. The yearly migration creates the world’s largest bat colony and the largest concentration of mammals on earth.

Mexican Free-tailed Bat
Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from Bracken Cave. Photo by Jonathan Alonzo.

From May to September, visitors to Bracken Cave Preserve assemble on wooden benches near the cave entrance. Anticipation builds. At dusk, millions of bats begin flying from the mouth of the cave into the evening sky for their nightly meal. The experience is sensory. Visitors hear bats in flight grow dramatically louder, watch increasing numbers of bats rise from the cave, feel the rush of air generated by flight motions, and catch whiffs of pungent bat guano from below.

Bat Conservation International owns and manages the cave and the surrounding 1,500-acre preserve. Bracken Cave is vital to the science of understanding migratory bat species. It also offers the public paramount opportunities to witness the wonders of bats.

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Onlookers at Bracken Cave. Photo by Jonathan Alonzo.

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Bear Gulch Cave

Bear Gulch Cave in Pinnacles National Park is uniquely a bat cave you can walk through – during seasons specified by park rangers.

Bat Viewing Site. Bear Gulch at Pinnacles National Park. California.
Bear Gulch Cave is open to walkers when the National Park Service deems disruption to bats is minimal. Photo by Kurt Moses. Courtesy of the National Park Service.
Townsend’s big-eared bats. Photo by Jason Corbett.

Bear Gulch Cave is home to a colony of several hundred Townsend’s big-eared bats (Corynorhinus townsendii) which hibernate in the cave in the winter and raise their young in late spring and summer. It is the largest colony of this bat species between San Francisco and Mexico.

Townsend’s big-eared bats roost on the walls and ceilings of the cave’s large rooms instead of tucking into cracks and crevices. Because bats are highly sensitive to human disturbance, the National Park Service closely monitors and manages Bear Gulch Cave to protect the colony.

Following several years of study, the Park Service constructed a gate in the cave and outlined a complex schedule of partial cave openings to protect the bats while providing the visiting public with nearly ten months of cave access each year. The entire cave is typically closed from mid-May to mid-July while the bats are raising their young.

Pinnacles National Park is home to 14 bat species including western pipistrelle (Parestrellus hesperus), western red bat (Lasiurus blossevilii), and hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus).

Townsend’s big-eared bats are easily identified by their pale gray fur, two large glandular lumps on both sides of the nose, and enormously long ears that, when laid back, can extend to the middle of the bat’s body. When bats roost in large rooms, their fur is erect for maximum insulation and their ears are coiled. This species is common throughout western North America yet their numbers are declining due to roost disturbance and destruction. 

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  • Bear Gulch Cave isn’t the place for a rushed power hike. The two-mile round-trip walk through the entire cave (when both sections of the cave are open) typically takes two to three hours. Cave passages are narrow with low ceilings.
  • Always check the park website for updates on access to the cave. When the cave is closed, the National Park Service recommends hiking the Moses Spring Trail which winds alongside and above Bear Gulch Cave. The trail provides a glimpse of the geologic processes that created the cave and views of a luxuriant fern grotto near a dry waterfall.
  • Pinnacles National Park is a spectacular park located in Central California about 80 miles southeast of San Jose. The national park’s distinguishing features are rock formations – pinnacles and unusual talus caves – created by multiple volcanic events millions of years ago.
  • There are no hotels inside the park boundaries but there are campgrounds with tent and RV sites, and canvas-sided tent cabins are available by reservation
  • Outside the national park are many food and accommodation options in the Salinas Valley, the City of Soledad, and King City.

Naracoorte Caves

Naracoorte Caves National Park in South Australia is likely one of the most sophisticated bat-viewing sites you might experience, offering a range of compelling options to tour caves and observe bats

Photo and caption to be added.

Designated in 1994 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its noteworthy collection of fossils, Naracoorte Caves offers multiple experiences to explore fossils, caves, and the site’s noteworthy bat species: the Southern bent-wing bat (Miniopterus orianae bassanil).

Naracoorte Caves is one of only two known breeding places for Southern bent-wing bats. In 2007, Australia added this bat to its list of critically endangered species. Five years later, Australia added this species to its “endangered action plan.” 

Australia’s Zoos Victoria reports that this ancient cave-dwelling bat “once numbering in the hundreds of thousands across southern Australia is currently estimated to comprise fewer than 25,000 individuals.” Zoos Victoria attributes a range of threats as factors in the species loss including the modification of roosting and foraging habitat, human disturbance, pesticides, disease, drought, and climate change which has affected food availability.”

Visitors to Naracoorte Caves witness the bats move about their maternity roost via infrared cameras in the Bat Centre and join guided tours into Blanche Cave where, during winter months, the bats compactly huddle on the cave roof. During summer months, visitors gather at dusk to watch the bats emerge for their nightly meals.

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  • Naracoorte Caves served as “pitfall traps” for at least 500,000 years to preserve the most complete fossil records for a period that spans several ice ages, the arrival of humans in the area, and the extinction of Australia’s iconic Megafauna. The bones of Megafauna species including marsupial lions and short-faced (sthenurine) kangaroos have been found layered in the caves. Paleontologists have excavated, dated, and reconstructed fossils found in the caves.
  • Guided one-hour tours of Victoria Fossil Cave, which earned Naracoorte Cave its World Heritage Designation, take visitors through spectacular cave chambers and provide fascinating insight into the cave’s history, excavation, and scientific research.
  • For families with children, Naracoorte Caves offers several choices including easy self-guided hikes through the Stick Tomato Cave and 30-minute guided tours of Alexandra Cave as well as indoor explorations in the Wonambi Fossil Centre.
  • The Roof Top Loop Walk links the Wonambi Fossil Centre with the Bat Observation Centre, Bat Cave, and Blanche Cave with interpretive signage, and is accessible. Other walking, hiking, and camping options are available.
  • Check entrance and tour fees here.

Adventure Mine

In the densely forested and thinly populated region of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Adventure Mine Tours provides several options for touring a historic copper mine. Those who sign up for tours put on hard hats with headlamps to walk and rappel through an 1860s mine to learn about the old-time ways of early miners.  But, make no mistake, bat conservation is part of the mine’s message.

a tricolored bat in flight
Tricolored bat. Photo by J. Scott Altenbach.

Adventure Mine owner Matthew Portfleet has witnessed the wrenching decline of little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus), big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus), northern long-eared bats (Myotis septentrionalis) and tricolored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) due to White-nose syndrome, a debilitating often fatal fungus that has decimated huge populations of bats across the U.S. 

Portfleet recounts seeing thousands of hibernating bats in the mine during cold weather months when he was a college student several years ago. He now talks to mine visitors about dwindling numbers of bats and the need to save them. In addition to running his tour operation, Portfleet has become actively engaged in bat conservation. Using standards established by Bat Conservation International, Portfleet builds bat gates that allow bats to fly freely in and out of mines and caves while restricting human access. His gates are now commissioned by the U.S. Forest Service and Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources.

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  • Adventure Mine offers four types of tours, beginning in May through the summer months. The tours are offered seven days a week.

Yolo Basin

By all accounts, the engineers who designed the Yolo Basin Causeway never imagined its design would provide the perfect summer roost for an estimated 250,000 migrating Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis)Nor did the designers anticipate that thousands of people would gather on summer evenings to witness and marvel over what locals call  “the flyout.” 

Mexican free-tailed bats. Photo by Michael Durham / Minden Pictures.

The three-mile elevated roadway between Sacramento and Davis, California – once noteworthy for its innovation in providing motorist access over a broad expanse of environmentally significant wetlands – is now perhaps equally noted for attracting and hosting hundreds of thousands of bats during warm weather months. 

Faithfully every summer, Mexican free-tailed bats make their way to the Yolo Basin Causeway to roost tightly between the causeway’s expansion joints, below the road’s rumbling traffic, above marshy wetlands thick with insects, and generally inaccessible to prowling predators. Notably, the causeway’s concrete holds the warmth of the sun for pregnant bats to give birth to their pups. As the sun sets, thousands of ravenous bats rise into the sky in a ribbon-like formation, weaving through the sky.

While there are several places near the causeway to watch the bats’ remarkable emergence, the Yolo Basin Foundation provides summertime Bat Talk and Walk events that begin with a presentation on bats followed by a tour of the wildlife area’s wetlands and rice fields. Then, bat watchers settle in place to observe “the flyout.”

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  • Bat Talk and Walk events offered by the Yolo Basin Foundation are family-friendly and last about three hours. Adults are charged a modest fee; children under 15 are free. The events are offered from June through September and sell out fast.
  • The Yolo Basin floodplain was once an 80,000-acre wetlands marsh. While conservation acreage has been whittled down over the years, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area continues to be vibrant with wildlife. Once inhabited by herds of Tule Elk, the vast wetlands are home to beavers, muskrats, river otters, turtles, toads, snakes, and nearly 200 species of birds. The wildlife area is open every day except Christmas and is always free.

Wyandotte Caves

Visitors to the recently re-opened Wyandotte Caves in southern Indiana experience the subterranean world of bats – a place of interconnected passages, limestone chambers, underground streams, and exotic-looking cave formations where rare and federally Endangered Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis) hibernate each winter.

WYANDOTTE CAVE (INDIANA)
Guided tours are available at Wyandotte Cave. Photo courtesy of Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
WYANDOTTE CAVE (INDIANA)
Guided tours at Wyandotte Cave offer information on geology and wildlife. Photo courtesy of Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Endangered Indiana bats. Photo by Jim Kennedy.

Over nine miles in length, Wyandotte Cave is one of the largest caves in Indiana. It is part of a system of interconnecting caves that shelters wintering bats. During summer months, when disturbances to bats are lessened, guides lead visitors through meandering and scenic routes of stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, and columns.

In addition to Endangered Indiana bats, Wyandotte Cave hosts several other species of bats including little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus), big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus), and eastern pipistrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus).  

Bats roost, breed, and hibernate in Wyandotte Caves, The caves provide a suitable habitat for bats due to stable temperatures and humidity levels, as well as the availability of dark, sheltered areas within the cave’s passages and chambers. Cave crickets, salamanders, and other troglobites and troglophiles also live in the cave.

Wyandotte Caves is a success story of prudent wildlife management. In 2010, when the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) detected the first cases of White-nose syndrome, the cave system was closed to the public to ensure the health of bats. White-nose syndrome — a debilitating fungus that causes bats to rouse from hibernation and expend necessary body fat during winter months when insect prey is unavailable — is not transmissible to humans but humans can transmit the fungus to bats. In 2023, the cave was re-opened for visitors with protocols for avoiding the spread of White-nose syndrome.

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  • Wyandotte Caves offers fee-based guided summer tours on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend. Tickets become available in April or May here.
  • The Little Wyandotte Cave tour is easy, without stairs, and takes 30 to 45 minutes. This smaller cave, totally separate from Big Wyandotte Cave, offers views of interesting cave formations.
  • The Big Wyandotte Cave Tour is considered “rugged.” The two-hour, 1.5-mile tour traverses the deep sections of the Big Wyandotte Cave where rare formations of helictites are prominent along with gypsum, epsomite, and prehistoric flint quarries. Tour-goers, wearing helmets and headlamps, must be in good shape to navigate the steep terrain and stairs. Everyone is required to walk across a decontamination surface near the cave entrance to prevent transferring fungal spores that cause White-nose syndrome.
  • Jackets are recommended for all cave tours because the cave temperature is always 52 degrees F. Comfortable and sturdy shoes are a must. Pets, alcohol, and tobacco use are strictly prohibited.

Waugh Drive Bridge

Houston’s distinct downtown skyline, two miles east, offers a striking juxtaposition when as many as 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) take flight from the Waugh Drive Bridge.

Bats silhouetted in the sunset. Photo by Amanda Stronza.

The bridge, which spans a section of the slow-moving Buffalo Bayou, shelters the migratory bats beginning in March into October, with peak numbers of bats witnessed during the summer and early fall. Nightly, weather permitting, the bats emerge from the understructure of the bridge, beginning with a trickle of bats and increasing in numbers – never failing to impress those who show up to watch.

Texas Parks and Wildlife directs viewers to viewing locations and provides information on Friday night “bat chats.” The Buffalo Bayou Partnership offers additional information and provides bat-viewing boat tours, dependent on weather and water levels.

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Wat Khao Wongkhot Temple

At dusk, an estimated million or more Wrinkle-lipped free-tailed bats (Chaerephon plicatus) fly from a bat cave within the sprawling complex of the Wat Khao Wongkhot Temple in Thailand’s countryside north of Bangkok. 

Wrinkle-lipped free-tailed bats. Photo by Ch’ien Lee/Minden Pictures

The Wat Khao Wongkhot Temple is one of several temples in Thailand where bats find refuge to roost in large colonies. Wrinkle-lipped free-tailed bats are widespread in Thailand. The temple itself, its location, its sacred shrines, and Buddhist history combined with bat-watching make this a unique travel experience.

The Wat Khao Wongkhot Temple nestles in limestone mountains, surrounded on three sides, facing a wide open valley to the East. Its location is advantageous for the insectivorous bats to devour swarms of planthoppers each night which helps suppress pests in the countryside’s rice fields. Temple monks collect and sell bat guano to financially support the temple.

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  • Statuary and shrines at the Wat Khao Wongkhot Temple include an immense golden Reclining Buddha at the base of one mountain, a swan pillar where a footprint of Buddha is enshrined, a monument to the founder of the temple, and a crystal coffin where monks say a corpse has rested for decades without decaying. 
  • The temple is open throughout the day but the best time to visit is around sunset to witness the bats’ evening emergence
  • Check Tourism Thailand and other online sources for more information.
  • Travelers to the temple are encouraged to dress and adapt their behavior to Thai and Buddhist cultures.                                                            

University of Florida Bat Houses

Spirited college campus wildlife is not to be confused with the actual wildlife at the University of Florida campus in Gainesville. More than 400,000 bats reside on campus in the world’s largest occupied bat structures – two bat barns and a large bat house.

Three bat species – Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis),  Southeastern bats (Myotis austroriparius) and Evening bats (Nycticeius humeralis) – roost all day in the shelters and emerge each evening to create a mesmerizing display against the Florida sky. 

The bat structures were erected in the 1990s to relocate bats from under the bleachers of two of the university’s sports stadiums after a fire devastated their attic home in a historic building. Since then, the university and community have formed an active bat conservancy to protect bats and educate the public about the importance of bats in healthy ecosystems. The university estimates that the campus-sheltered bats consume up to 2.5 billion insects nightly – the equivalent of 2,500 pounds of insects! — to the benefit of regional farmers and agriculture producers.

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  • The bat houses are located on Museum Road near the Florida Museum, an impressive not-to-be-missed natural history museum.  Benches along the fence line on Museum Road and across the road near Lake Alice offer opportunities to observe the bats over the lake, pine trees, and around streetlights.
  • While the bat emergence can be seen year-round, warm weather months – spring through summer, when days are increasing in length – offer the best viewing.
  • Arrive before sunset to find parking and get situated. The bats normally emerge 15 to 20 minutes after sunset.
  • Take a stroll. The University of Florida’s 2,000-acre campus showcases a diverse collection of native and cultivated plants.
  • An online portal provides travel recommendations for Gainesville accommodations, restaurants, events, and additional places to see in the region.  
  • Brazilian free-tailed bats are also known as Mexican free-tailed bats.

Stuart Bat Cave

Stuart Bat Cave, located in Kickapoo Cavern State Park, shelters approximately one million Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) mid-March through mid-October, offering visitors to the state park exceptional opportunities to witness bats take flight en masse.

Nightly during the bats’ migratory season, visitors to Stuart Bat Cave witness remarkable bat flight. Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department..

The bat cave is part of the Edwards Plateau, an uplifted region originally formed from marine deposits of sandstone, limestone, and shale. Once a lush grassland savannah that supported abundant herds of bison and antelope, the region was significantly changed between the mid-1800s and the mid-1900s by indiscriminate land use. Even Stuart Cave was affected.

For several decades guano miners plundered the cave to extract and sell bat guano to the local farmers until they recklessly dug a shaft from the ground surface into a section of the cave near the end of its tunnels. The miners’ actions swiftly altered the stability of cave temperatures and significantly cooled the habitat making it less conducive for pregnant female bats to give birth and nurse their pups. The once healthy bat colony suffered. (The guano miners’ actions also changed their livelihoods. Fewer bats. Far less guano.)  

In 1989, the shaft was covered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to return the cave to its natural state and restore the bat colony with impressive success.

Currently, wildlife managers continue to closely monitor Stuart Cave and 19 other caves within the state park. Unauthorized access to all caves is restricted. On Saturday afternoons, guided three-hour cave tours are provided in nearby Kickapoo Cavern. Tours are limited to 10 people and require advance registration

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  • Mexican free-tailed bats are officially designated as the Texas State Flying Mammal. They devour insects, lessening the need for local agriculture to use pesticides.
  • In addition to watching the nightly bat emergence, Kickapoo Cavern State Park offers campsites and hiking and mountain biking trails. The state park is approximately an hour’s drive from Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area which also offers excellent bat viewing.
  • Texas is home to 32 of 47 bat species found in the United. States. Check out other Texas bat-viewing sites

Selman Cave

Oklahoma loves bats. The Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) is designated the State of Oklahoma’s official flying mammal.

Selman Living Lab is managed by the University of Central Oklahoma. Photo by Jonathan Smith.

Selman Bat Cave, which shelters one of four known maternity colonies for Mexican free-tailed bats in Oklahoma, serves as a research site for scientists studying bat populations, migratory patterns, reproductive biology, habitat, ecology, and the overall impacts of environmental factors on bat health and survival.

For more than two decades, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation provided bat-viewing opportunities on weekend nights but, in 2023, paused public visitation to assess how to best provide public outreach programs as it manages the bat cave. The department has not announced reinstated public viewing options.

Bat Conservation International has included this bat-viewing destinationalthough it is currently closed – to point out how wildlife management agencies closely monitor and assess the health of bat populations and respond accordingly. A report of Selman Cave research, conducted in 2023, provides interesting insight into the department’s findings.

Oklahoma is home to several bat species including canyon bats (Parastrellus hesperus) and evening bats (Nycticeius humeralis). Check out an excellent online field guide on Oklahoma’s bats.

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  • Located between Freedom and Woodward, Oklahoma, the 340-acre Selman Bat Cave Wildlife Management Area was once part of the historic Selman Ranch which was originally homesteaded in the early 1900s.
  • The bat cave was purchased by the Oklahoma Wildlife Department in 1995 with donations to the Wildlife Diversity Program and other funding sources.

Sauta Cave

In northeastern Alabama, Sauta Cave shelters one of the largest summer bat colonies east of the Mississippi River. Between late spring and early fall, with numbers peaking midsummer, as many as 300,000 to 400,000 Endangered gray bats (Myotis grisescens) emerge from the cave flying tightly together into the night in what might be described as a rousing cloud of motion.

Bat watchers at Sauta Cave bring umbrellas and other protective gear as bats fly overhead. Photo courtesy of Alabama Travel.
Gray myotis. Photo by J. Scott Altenbach.

Visitors to the Sauta Cave National Wildlife Refuge, a mere seven miles from the City of Scottsboro, experience the most numbers of bats in nightly summer emergence than any location in the eastern U.S.  Notably, viewers witness a healthy population of a federally Endangered bat species.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, human intrusions in caves populated by gray bats caused steep population declines which resulted in the species being added in 1976 to the list of U.S. Endangered Species. Accordingly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) closely monitors and manages Sauta Cave. Bat gates have been installed at both cave entrances to maintain airflow and allow bats to fly freely to and from the cave while restricting public access.

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  • Visitors standing near the cave’s entrance are encouraged to bring umbrellas, caps, hats, and other protective gear as bats exit the cave.
  • For other travel information to Sauta Cave, click here.
  • Nearby accommodations and other traveler amenities are available in Scottsboro.
  • Sauta Cave National Wildlife Refuge is one of several destinations in Alabama that offer bat viewing. Check out Alabama Outdoors for a list of other locations.

Pura Goa Lawah Bat Cave Temple

History, mystery, and bats are some of the reasons travelers make their way to Pura Goa Lawah in Bali. The colorful and picturesque temple, constructed in the 11th century, was built at the entrance to a bat cave sheltering thousands of long-tongued fruit bats (Macroglossus sobrinus), a species of megabat. The name for the temple “Goa Lawah” literally translates to “Bat Cave.”

This sacred temple is located in front of a bat cave. Access to the cave is not allowed. Photo courtesy of Pura Goa Lawah Tourism.

Located on a rocky outcrop on the southeast coast of Bali, Pura Goa Lawah is considered one of Bali’s key nine directional temples and plays a significant role in the island’s spiritual rituals that stem from beliefs in gods and goddesses and ancestral spirits. At Pura Goa Lawah, some believe that a mythical giant snake known as Vasuki lives in the cave with the bats. Some believe that a river of healing waters can be found in the cave yet the extent of the cave has not been explored.

Long-tongued fruit bats, not to be confused with Mexican long-tongued bats (Choeronycteris mexicana), are nectarivorous and feed on nectar primarily from banana flowers. This bat species is common and found in several countries in Southeast Asia. The temple is adorned with bat symbols.

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  • Pura Goa Lawah is an important site for Hindu ceremonies and pilgrimages in Bali. Daily worshippers pray at shrines outside the temple. 
  • Because this is a sacred destination, visitors are asked to dress modestly and respect ceremonial prayers.
  • Bali travel information can be found here. Specific information regarding Pura Goa Lawah is available here.

Pemba Island

Traveling to Pemba Island to see the island’s impressive namesake bat can be challenging.

Pemba flying foxes. Photo courtesy of Outdoortrips.com.

Transportation to the island, located 31 miles off the coast of Tanzania, is generally by small aircraft or by ferries that operate only a few times a week on timetables that are likely to change. There, on the small island, there are dala dalas (shared rides in minibusses and converted trucks) or rental bicycles to get you to the Kidike Flying Fox Sanctuary where a guide/guardian may or may not meet you to collect your entrance fee. If he’s not around, says guidebook Lonely Planet, his phone number is scrawled on the wall of an unused building at the edge of the sanctuary.

Witnessing Pemba flying fox (Pteropus voeltzkowi) is worth the travel challenges. The Pemba flying fox is found only on this small island. It is one of the largest species of fruit bats with a wingspan of approximately five feet. During the day, the bats visibly hang in a forest of large trees. As the sky begins to darken, the bats lift into the night to forage for figs, mangos, and breadfruit. 

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  • Pemba Island is part of the Zanzibar Archipelago, a series of several islands often called the Spice Islands. The archipelago is located off the coast of East Africa. 
  • Pemba bats have thrived on the island, in part, because of minimal human disturbance. The Kidike Flying Fox Sanctuary is remote and isolated. Nearby burial grounds, which are taboo in native culture to visit, keep humans from the area.
  • Tanzania is well known for its spectacular destinations including Serengeti National Park, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the beaches of Zanzibar. Over 30 percent of Tanzania is set aside for conservation.  
  • Pemba Island, according to the Tanzania Tourism Board, “is fast becoming a unique destination in its own right.” Nevertheless, travel planning information requires online sleuthing. Bat Conservation International recommends beginning your research with the Tourism Board or inquiring with tour providers who offer guided wildlife tours.
  • Pemba Island’s culture is conservative and based on Islamic values and traditions. Travelers are asked to dress modestly and to respectfully honor the island’s culture. 
  • Swahili (kiswahili) is the native language of Pemba Island. Travelers are encouraged to learn some Swahili before arrival and carry a translating phrasebook.

 
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Jonathan Alonzo

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Congress Avenue Bridge
Amanda Stronza, Bat Conservation International

Congress Avenue Bridge

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Bracken Cave Preserve
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