Question: What is dark brown, squeaky, and can cause Austin officials to shut down a major downtown bridge for eight whole hours?

Why bats, of course!

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From 4 p.m. to midnight on August 23, Roadway Productions and Bat Conservation International will host Bat Fest 2014, an annual event held on the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge to celebrate Austin’s favorite flying critters. Beyond the bats’ nightly flight, which will begin sometime between 7 and 8 p.m., expect to enjoy live music, eats and drinks, a bat-themed costume contest, and local vendors galore. (Update: And now that it’s over, you can watch the video above for a recap of all the fun.)

batty ann w richards bridge congress soco south lady bird lake colorado river

Bat Fest 2012. Photo: Courtesy of Roadway Productions

This year’s festival marks the event’s 10th anniversary and organizers are expecting a record turnout of 15,000 to 20,000.

“10 years ago, we noticed people had a strong interest in the bats on the Congress Bridge and decided to give a new event celebrating the bats a chance,” said French Smith, owner of Roadway Productions. “Over the years we have seen the festival grow as well as the popularity of the bats.”

But, let’s rewind to 1980, when all this bat talk really began.

Extensive renovations on the Congress bridge created a perfect home for Mexican free-tailed bats and a large colony moved in shortly thereafter, alarming local residents. Superstition and mistrust eventually compounded into an outcry for the bats’ removal.

Thankfully, stalwart conservationists and organizations like Bat Conservation International were able to sway public opinion to save the bats and turn them into a beloved city icon.

So, if you see a bat in Texas, it’s very likely a little Mexican free-tail. They look like this:

austin congress bats bridge mexican free-tailed flight wildlife

An adult Mexican free-tailed bat. Photo: Flickr user USFWS/Ann Froschauer, creative commons licensed

Also called Brazilian free-tails and Austonian bridge bats (really!), fully-grown Mexican free-tails are roughly nine centimeters long and weigh about 12 grams. They are expert aviators and are capable of flying up to 100 miles per night at speeds of up to 60 mph. Each bat can eat up to two-thirds of its body weight in insects as well, which means that the 1.5-million bats living beneath the Congress bridge have the ability to eat an astonishing 30,000 pounds of bugs per night.

The Congress bridge bats constitute the largest urban bat colony in the world, and thanks to positive press and goodwill events like Bat Fest, those numbers are only growing.

“We have always kept a positive message about bats with the festival, so that people’s curiosity turns into a love and support of bats,” Smith said. “Bat Conservation International will have a festive booth on the bridge helping celebrate [and educate folks about] Austin’s favorite furry flying friends!”

Admission to Bat Fest will be $10 at the gate, although kids 8 and under get in free. VIP and Advance passes are also available to those who want to fork over some extra dough to receive complimentary merchandise and drinks, a convenient parking spot, front row seating to shows and backstage access, among other perks.

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For more information about Bat Fest 2014, visit Roadway Productions’ website. To learn more about bats, browse Bat Conservation International’s bat resource guide or check out this informative article on Mexican free-tails.

Feature artwork: Courtesy of Roadway Productions. Featured video: Renee Lagunes.



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