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Carlsbad Caverns
 

 Kachina

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The Bats of Carlsbad Caverns
The Mexican Freetail
The Mexican Freetail
Carlsbad Cavern is a sanctuary for about 1 million Mexican Freetail bats. During the day they crowd together on the ceiling of Bat Cave, a passageway near the natural entrance of Carlsbad Cavern. In the darkened home only scientific researchers see them. At nightfall, however, the bats leave the cave in gigantic swarms. Other extraordinary characteristics of the bat--its natural sonar system and its ability to fly--make this creature of darkness one of great interest.
Echolocation

Like most species of bats, Mexican Freetails navigate and locate their prey by emitting ultra-high frequency sounds. Known as echolocation, this natural sonar system is similar to that used by dolphins and whales. When a bat's signals strike an object, they are reflected back and heard by the bat. The bat then takes whatever action is appropriate, whether it be zeroing in on a tiny moth or swerving to avoid a tree limb. Carlsbad
The Mexican Freetail

The Mexican Freetail
The Mexican Freetail
As many as seven types of bats may roost in Carlsbad Cavern, but none is as prevalent as the Mexican Freetail. Gray or sometimes brown, this bat is distinguished by its long, narrow wings and a free dangling, skinney tail. Only a part-time resident of Carlsbad Cavern, this migratory bat stays here, and in other Southwest caves, from early spring through October. It flies south to tropical Mexico for the winter.
In the Bat Cave

The Bats of Carlsbad Caverns
The bats of Carlsbad Caverns
The Bat Cave serves as a warm weather home, as a daytime refuge, and perhaps most importantly, as a maternity roost, for Mexican Freetail bats. The bats migrate from Mexico to Carlsbad Cavern each year to give birth and raise their young. Under cover of darkness, away from predators or disturbances, the young are born in June. A female usually has just one offspring. Each birth occurs on the ceiling as the mother hangs by her toes and thumbs.

The newborn, too, clings to the ceiling, or to its mother. For the next four to five weeks the youngster remains on the ceiling. During the day mother and young hang in clusters on the ceiling, resting, napping and nursing. As many as 300 bats may crowd into one square foot. At night, the young are left in the cave while the adults leave to feed.

In July or August, each young bat takes its first flight, joining the adults on nightly feeding forays. Throughout their stay in Bat Cave the bats share their quarters with only a few insects and spiders. Finally in late October or early November, adults and young leave Bat Cave until next year for their wintering grounds in Mexico.

The Night Flight

The Night Flight
The Night Flight
The spectacular night flight of the Mexican Freetail begins with a few bats fluttering out of the natural entrance of Carlsbad Cavern. Then, in a matter of minutes, a thick whirlwind of bats spirals out of the cave up into the darkening night sky. the exodus can last 20 minutes or as long as 2.5 hours. Once out of the cave the undulating mass of thousands of bats flies, in serpentine fashion, towards the southeast to feed in the Pecos and Black River valleys.

Once there, they begin gorging themselves on moths and other night-flying insects. Using echolocation, its sophisticated sonar system, each bat may catch and eat several stomachfuls of insects in a single night. With the coming of dawn, the bats begin flying back to the cave individually or in small groups. They reenter the cave in a fashion almost as remarkable as their departure.

Each bat positions itself high above the cave entrance. It then folds its wings close to its body, and plummets like a hailstone into the blackness of Carlsbad Cavern, making a strange buzzing sound as it does. One by one, the bats return to the safety of the Bat Cave, where they sleep until reemerging in the dusk of the next day.

 
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