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Thousands of curious spectators gathered Tuesday evening on the Camden Street Bridge and along the Museum Reach section of the River Walk to catch a glimpse of bats in flight. The occasion: the Fifth Annual Bat Loco Bash.
As the sun slowly set, families milled around the bridge and gradually reserved their places to watch the colony of 60,000 Mexican free-tailed bats embark on their evening hunt for insects, flying up to 60 miles in search of food.
Hours before the bats took flight, the Camden Street Bridge and Interstate 35 underpass were filled with young children and their parents, forming small crowds around informational booths from local ecological and educational organizations.
Representatives from Bat Conservation International (BCI) explained aspects of bat biology to children, including how the roughly 10 million mothers in the Bracken Cave bat maternity colony are able to locate their offspring out of the roughly 10 million bat pups by using their acute senses of sound and smell.
San Antonio River Authority employees explained the importance of environmental stewardship of the San Antonio River and gave information on public art projects along the River Walk.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) workers showcased a selection of taxidermied bats and bat skeletons, drawing a line of curious children eager to see the creatures up close.
“[The Bat Loco Bash] gives people an understanding of bats in a fun way, and people can learn that bats are important for the environment and not something to be afraid of,” said TPWD biologist Nyta Brown, who taxidermied some of the bats on display herself.
“It gives people an idea of where they can go see these really cool occurrences of these bats,” she said. “TPWD has a lot of cool places to see bats come out. So it’s good for them, but good for us because it helps us educate people.”
The longest line by far, however, was for the booth giving out wearable animal balloon bat wings to kids, which sustained a heavy crowd throughout the duration of the event.
Popular as well was posing for pictures with Batman, Echo the Bat Loco mascot, the 1966 Batmobile, and the array of Batman characters who made appearances. Many visitors wore batman shirts, and a few even wore full costumes.
Food trucks from Cheesy Jane’s, Flamingo Rey’s Island Ice, Mister Softee, Cousins Maine Lobster, and Sensational Salad Station drew drew lines of visitors in a parking lot just off Camden Street.
As the sun began to set, Fran Hutchins, Bracken Bat cave coordinator from BCI, answered questions and shared interesting facts about bats, the world’s only flying mammal. For example, the saying “blind as a bat” is way off – some bats can see three times better than humans, even in color; a few hundred bats can roost in 1 sq. ft. of ceiling space; and some bats are pollinators for plants like the agave cactus and cocoa tree.
Around 8 p.m., a bat parade proceeded down the Camden Street Bridge led by people in elaborate bat costumes, all dancing to a rhythmic drum beat, like a rain dance to summon the bats.
Then, as the sun dipped below the horizon, the moment finally came. First, a trickle of flapping wings flew from the bridge, turning quickly into a steady stream of bats leaving the underpass and trailing south in a light cloud before the amazed eyes of bat fanatics young and old.