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Energy & Environment

Waugh Bat Colony, Decimated By Harvey, Faces Slow Recovery

Some 300,000 Mexican free-tailed bats lived Waugh Drive Bridge before Harvey. Roughly 100,000 are left

Hurricane Harvey was a catastrophe for countless thousands of Texas residents – not all of them human. In Houston, the floodwaters of Buffalo Bayou inundated the Waugh Bridge Bat Colony. Biologists are still struggling to gauge the damage.

Before Harvey struck, Waugh Drive Bridge housed upwards of 300,000 Mexican free-tailed bats, one of the largest year-round colonies in the state. "The population is maybe – just a really, really rough estimate – maybe a third of what it was before Harvey," said Diana Foss, an urban wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

It's not yet clear how many of the rest drowned and how many simply dispersed. Smaller columns of bats emerging from the bridge after sunset are joining up with bats roosting in parking garages and other downtown locations. What is clear is the storm has affected the remaining bats' behavior.

"They've been coming out well after dark, waiting till it's very dark, and then coming out in little groups and not the big emergence that most people are used to seeing down at Waugh," said Foss.

Photo via Twitter @AltaWestEnd
There's not much humans can do to rebuild the colony. Female Mexican free-tailed bats only give birth to one pup per year, during the summer. "So it's going to take them awhile to repopulate the bridge," Foss said.

There are now also fewer hawks and night herons in the skies over Houston. Without large flights of bats to feed on, Foss said, those predators have left in search of other prey.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew Schneider is the senior reporter for politics and government at Houston Public Media, NPR's affiliate station in Houston, Texas. In this capacity, he heads the station's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments...

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