Bad news for bat lovers. On Sunday Buffalo Bayou Partnership took to its social accounts, asking folks to avoid the walking paths under the Waugh Bridge. The issue? It appears that our poor Mexican free-tailed bat colony, which endured the floodwaters of Harvey in 2017, has now been hit hard by the winter storm.
We have received reports about the bats under the Waugh Drive Bridge and unfortunately, the colony has been affected by Winter Storm Uri. For the safety of both humans and animals, please stay away from this area. Our park maintenance team is assessing the situation.— Buffalo Bayou Partnership (@buffalobayou) February 21, 2021
A rep from the partnership tells Houstonia that reports started coming in of both dead bats on the ground and bats that were still alive and in distress, on Saturday, as folks returned to the park. The rep did not know how many bats were involved, and we still don’t have any details about exactly what happened—if they froze to death inside the bridge or while trying to take flight or if anything else is at play (bats can carry rabies, so please stay away, folks).
Before Harvey, there were an estimated 300,000 bats in the Waugh Bridge colony, but as we sadly know, many perished as Harvey’s floodwaters rose up into the bridge, and then many more were likely displaced since bats don’t like to live among the dead. The bats in the Waugh colony reside in the bridge about seven layers deep, and, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, still have a population about 250,000 deep, fluctuating through out the year as the species is somewhat migratory.
As of Monday morning, TPWD has sent its bat team coordinator and wildlife biologist, Diana Foss, to assess the situation, which may involve taking distressed, living bats with her to investigate the matter. The partnership also tells us that more environmentalists are investigating the situation as well. It’s unknown if Austin’s bat population is dealing with the same issue.
Earlier this month, the Chronicle reported that many of Texas’s bats have faced a greater risk of death recently due to the rampant spread across our state of white-nose syndrome, a disease that causes bats’ fat stores to run out quicker than normal, sending them out into the cold weather to feed rather than hibernate. But Mexican free-tailed bats do not hibernate like other species in Texas, so it’s uncertain if the disease is actually affecting them the way it is other species.
We’ll update on any information regarding the situation when we get it. For now, avoid the paths under the Waugh Bridge, and send some love to our favorite bat colony. Please hang in there, little fellas!