Ask most people how they feel about bats and you’ll probably receive overwhelmingly negative replies. The fact is, most folks think bats are ugly, gross, creepy, smelly, and dangerous. None of this is true, as most Austinites can tell you.

Here in Austin, we coexist with 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats that live near the Congress Street bridge over Ladybird Lake. It sounds big because it is: Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world.

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Every night from March through November, hundreds of spectators gather to watch the bats’ nightly exodus, and we even hold a massively popular bat festival every year that attracts folks from all over the world and shuts down an entire section of Congress Avenue, one of the busiest streets in town.

Even though Austin’s bats are largely accepted and even celebrated, many of us still only tolerate the furry aerialists. Or, if we do like them, we often misunderstand their behaviors and benefits. To clear the air, here are ten astonishing reasons to should love Austin’s bats…

10. Bats help protect you from Zika & West Nile Virus

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The Asian Tiger Mosquito. Photo by Flickr user frankieleon, CC licensed

It’s commonly known that bats eat bugs, but do you know which bugs bats prefer? Or how many of those little beasties they devour in a single evening? Bat Conservation International (BCI) says that free-tail bats enjoy a nommy diet of flying ants, moths, dragonflies, wasps, gnats, beetles, and — importantly — mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile Virus and even nastier diseases like Zika. Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) adds that Austin’s free-tail colony collectively eats about 30,000 pounds of insects every night, with each bat consuming up to two-thirds of its body weight in bugs. Take that, deadly germs!

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