The Waugh Bridge's Dark Underside
Though not as famous as Austin's Congress Avenue bats, our own 250,000-strong colony is gaining visibility.
Waugh Bridge Bat Colony Pontoon Boat Tour
July 12 & 26
Tours begin 30 minutes before sunset
After living in Houston for over 15 years, I thought I had turned over every stone, searched every nook, and discovered everything there was to know about my hometown. But I had no idea about the dark underside of the Bayou City—by which I mean the quite literal undersides of bridges over our bayous. Although not as famous as Austin’s Congress Avenue bat colony, which draws hundreds of visitors each evening to the shores of Lady Bird Lake, Houston has its own colony underneath the Waugh Bridge.
To check the bats out for myself, I recently took a tour down Buffalo Bayou with Waugh Bridge Bat Colony Pontoon Boat Tours, operated by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. My guide regaled our group with tales of the bayou—its history, its natural environment, and its wildlife. The highlight of the 90-minute boat tour was seeing the 250,000-strong colony of Mexican free-tailed bats that make their home under Waugh Bridge, seemingly oblivious to the thousands of motorists speeding by overhead.
Bat Conservation International’s website describes Mexican free-tailed bats as “gnomes with an overbite,” and, after I got an unexpected personal encounter, I would be inclined to agree. During our tour, a baby bat fell onto our pontoon. Our guide ran from his steering cabin to the bat’s rescue, and we all huddled around to take a look.
From my too-close-for-comfort observation, I saw that the bats are muddy brown in color and really do have the appearance of garden creatures in serious need of an orthodontist. However, the tour guide was quick to inform us that they do serve a purpose. The state’s 100 million free-tailed bats eat about 1,000 tons of insects each night, cutting down on bug bites one late night snack at a time. The bats travel to Texas for the warm weather and the insects.
Fortunately for them, our state has plenty of both.