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Why the Bracken Cave is a smelly situation

Bracken Cave was recently featured in "Deep in the Heart," a wildlife documentary that showcases Texas' incredible ecosystem.

SAN ANTONIO — The Bracken Cave Preserve, about a 40-minute drive from downtown San Antonio, is home to the world's largest bat colony, where millions of bats will emerge and grow in population beginning in late-July, according to their website

Since the Bracken Cave is the largest known bat maternity colony in the world, the female bats produce millions of young bats each year. By the end of July, they're ready to test their flying skills, the website says. 

The bats' emergence from the cave is such a popular sight that for the rest of 2022 all dates open to the public are sold out. However, those wanting to become a member can take advantage of some remaining dates in August and September. 

If you're curious about visiting the Bracken Cave Preserve, there are some things to understand about why this Texas experience is one of a kind. 

Here's what to expect:

It's a smelly situation: An estimated current depth of bat guano (bat poop) is between 75 and 100 feet! Since the cave is 117 feet tall, it's a lot of guano, which makes the aroma of the cave pretty smelly. 

The bat guano was pretty useful to some of the first Texas settlers. Some mined the Bracken Cave as far back as the 1800s for fertilizer, then gunpowder during the Civil War and World War II. 

So let's just say you won't want to get too close to the cave's entrance, and, depending on wind direction, it could be a tough smell to escape. Luckily, seating at the cave for bat viewings is a good distance away from the cave, and that still allows for the perfect shot. 

See and hear the "batnado": The emergence of the bat colony comes near sunset in the form of a swirling "batnado." This actually looks like a tight organized vortex made up of bats flying in a circular motion out and over the cave. It's a unique sight to see and hear as they make their journey to hunt for moths and other insects. 

Look out for snakes: Unfortunately, since the Bracken Cave holds a maternity colony, many of the younger bats are sitting ducks for ground and sky predators. This is something to remember for spectators who want to walk around the preserve and who will bear witness to an active food chain right in front of their eyes.   

Many times, snakes are lurking around the cave anxiously waiting to catch a bat unable to keep up in the "batnado." A younger bat that is not an expert in flight could easily fall onto the rocky terrain below the "batnado" and be snatched up by a snake. 

Hawks are another predator that you will see flying above or besides the bats and occasionally swoop and grab an unlucky bat. 

The stage is set: If you want to break out that dusty old camera out or break in a new one, this is the place snap some animal action. The Bracken Cave allows cameras for pictures or videos as millions of bats emerge during golden hour. What a shot!

Recently, the Bracken Bat Cave was featured in "Deep in the Heart: A Texas Wildlife Story," a wildlife documentary that showcases incredible landmarks and animals across Texas.

If you're unable to attend a Bracken Cave Preserve viewing, there are other bat sightings near San Antonio. The Camden Street Bridge located downtown  and Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin are home to some bat colonies that will emerge throughout the summer. 


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