Bracken Cave is the summer home of 15-20 million Mexican free-tailed bats. Duck and cover as they swarm and fly overhead at dusk. USA TODAY NETWORK
Imagine 200 bats hanging from your laptop screen. That's how densely Mexican free-tailed bats pack the walls of Bracken Cave every summer.
Bracken Cave, on the outskirts of San Antonio, is home to the largest known colony of bats in the world. Approximately 15-20 million bats converge there each summer. Witness them fly overhead with VRtually There in the video below.
Each spring pregnant female bats migrate to Central Texas where they give birth and raise their young before returning to Mexico in October. With temperatures over 100 degrees, the environment inside the cave acts as a giant incubator for the young bats.
The nursing moms emerge from the cave each night to fly long distances in search of food. They gorge on moths, flying ants, and other crop pests. Their concentration is so dense that the airborne colony looks like a cloud on weather radar screens miles away. The bats collectively consume over 140 tons of insects each night, providing a service to farmers nearby. They return to the cave before sunrise while it’s still dark.
The juveniles spread their wings for the first time when they are around a month old. The flight is a matter of life or death as the floor of the cave is crawling with dermestid beetles, which will devour fallen bats in a matter of minutes. Half of the pups won’t make it to their second birthday. Around August and September, the young start joining their mothers for hunts outside the cave.
Experience the bats emerge for their nightly feast in this incredible natural spectacle in the video above.
For the ideal experience, view in 360 degrees on your mobile phone or in VR headsets such as Google cardboard or Daydream.