Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Participants from last year’s bat walk.
Photo submitted by the Niki Lake, Discovery Center specialist


Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Discovery Center offers night hikes to learn about Mexican free-tail bats

In the evening as the sun sets over Rio Vista park, people still playing in the river will witness an unlikely hero taking wing. With a roost beneath the train trestle bridge, dozens of Mexican free-tailed bats whisk out on their nightly trek in search of food.

These bats eat a specific kind of moth — the Corn Earworm — which comes from a caterpillar that dines on corn crops. Mexican free-tails can travel up to 120 miles in a night, and preying on these migrating moths helps keep that insect population in check.

“Everyone wants [the moth’s] favorite food to be mosquitos,” Niki Lake, Discovery Center specialist said. “But they are kind of scrawny. A free-tails' favorite food is moths, and they fly down to the corn and cotton crops. Once those caterpillars hatch, the free-tail bats fly south and the moths fly north, so they meet up and have a feeding frenzy.”

According to Bat Conservation International, bats provide vital services around the world in the form of insect pest consumption. Additionally, they are pollinators and dispersers of seeds, which makes them essential to the health of global ecosystems. Out of the 1,400 species of bats worldwide, 33 of them call Central Texas home, including the famous free-tails (they’re the ones who live beneath the Congress Street Bridge), big brown bats, Eastern red bats, evening bats and cave myotis.

In order to raise awareness for these often-overlooked nocturnal heroes, the Discovery Center is hosting several Bat Walks over the summer. Each free, family-friendly night hike will use bat detectors to discover what bat species are found in the San Marcos area. During the walk, the Discovery Center specialists will give participants information about the types of bats that live in and migrate to this area, and why they are so important to our ecosystem.

“The trestle bridge is one of our destinations for our Bat Walk,” Lake said. “We give red flashlights for participants to use. We recommend bringing a water bottle, wearing pants and closedtoed shoes.”

The tour will take participants through the bat garden and along the river path to the trestle bridge before returning to Crook Park, which features dark skies ideal for viewing nocturnal creatures.

“We try to get to the train bridge before dark,” Lake said. “We get to the wildlife annex where there’s a lot of trees. It’s dark there and less impacted by humans. We usually check out the moonflower because by then it’s open.”

Discovery Center will hosted its latest Bat Walk on Friday, May 24. The next Bat Walk will be on July 26. Bat Walks are open to guests age five and older. Participants must be able to hike one mile at a slow-to-moderate pace. To register, go to event/bat-walks/3656 or visit the San Marcos Parks & Recreation page on Facebook at facebook. com/SMTXParksandRec.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666