Free tailing it up to Carlsbad

Natural entrance to Carlsbad Caverns, home to a maternity colony of Mexican free-tailed bats.

By Rick LoBello, Board Member

Prior to moving to El Paso my friends used to call me Batman because of my job at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.   From 1992 to 2000 I lived in government housing a stone’s throw away from the natural entrance to the cavern where all the bats exit at night to hunt for insects. 

Mexican free-tailed bats emerging right before sunset.

Seventeen different species of bats live at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, about a 2 ½ hour drive northeast of El Paso.   Every night from March to October thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from the cavern’s natural entrance where park rangers offer bat flight programs.   When I lived at Carlsbad Caverns I always knew when the bat flight began because of the odor of guano from their wings as the bats emerged from their roost deep inside the cave.  Bat flights in late September and early October were always my favorites because the flights included young of the year and the bats are easier to see as the flight begins about 20 minutes before sunset.

Mexican free-tailed bat. Notice the long tail. Most bats have the tail incorporated in the tail membrane.

There is probably over a million or more Mexican free-tailed bats living in the Carlsbad and southern New Mexico area, but the largest concentration of this species is at Bracken Cave near San Antonio where an estimated 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats roost in the cave from March to October.

Mexican free-tailed bats flying out of Bracken Cave.

Over the past year the Zoo has been collaborating with Bat Conservation International (BCI) in helping to protect endangered Mexican long-nosed bats.  Known in the US only from one cave in Big Bend National Park, BCI is working to restore foraging habitat, particularly agaves, around the bats’ roosts and migratory corridor.

Carlsbad Caverns is a great place to get to know bats and now is a good time to plan a trip before the bats return to Mexico for the winter.   Bats need friends.   They do a great job controlling insects and need our help.   Learn more by contacting Bat Conservation International.


Top – James St. John, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Cover and Middle 1 – US Fish and Wildlife Service
Middle 2 – J.N. Stuart, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Bottom – US Fish and Wildlife Service

%d bloggers like this: