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Visiting the UF Bat House, Gainesville, Florida
Visiting the UF bat house is one of the most fun things to do in Gainesville, Florida in my experience.
The experience is pretty much unique, and an enjoyable thing to do whatever your age. It is also a completely free daily event with free parking nearby.
The bat house is one of the largest occupied bat colonies in the USA and the experience of watching the bats emerge as the sun sets is truly unique and awe-inspiring.
As the sun goes down, the bats begin to fly out, just a few at first, then more come in flutters, until before you know it, there is a steady stream of as many as 200,000 bats emerging.
When to visit?
You can see the bat house any day of the year. But if you go during the daytime, then there is not a great deal to see, as the bats, being nocturnal, are asleep inside the bat house and should not be disturbed.
The time to visit is about twenty minutes before sunset, when the bats begin to emerge and go hunting for insects.
I would look up the sunset time for your visit day online and aim to get there with enough time to park your car and find a good place to stand. It can often be quite busy there, with over a hundred people watching sometimes.
Location and History of the UF Bat House
The bat house is located on the UF campus, across the road from Lake Alice, and there is free, unrestricted parking close by, if you are there in the evening time.
It is situated on Museum Road (see map).
There are actually two bat houses nowadays. The original one was built in 1991.
Bat House Collapse
In 2009 the original bat house collapsed, due to a combination of overcrowding and bat urine soaking into the wooden structure and weakening it.
Around a hundred bats died and many others had to find alternative homes in the Gainesville area (they like attics and crevices in buildings).
Within a matter of months, however, the original bat house was restored and another one was built beside it, doubling the population capacity from 200,000 to 400,000.
What sort of bats live there?
The bats are Mexican free-tailed bats (also known as Brazilian free-tailed bats). Their name comes from their distinctive tail, which looks a bit like a mouse’s tail.
Mexican free-tailed bats are common across Florida, especially in urban areas. They like to form their colonies in buildings and under bridges.
A typical colony of Mexican free-tailed bats numbers between 50 and 20,000 bats. Each bat will eat between 500 and 1000 insects in a single night.
The colony of bats at the UF Bat House are therefore seen as being an excellent natural way of controlling the insect population in the local area and the colony are believed to consume nearly a ton of insects each night.
Facts About Mexican Free-Tailed Bats
- They are the official state bat of Oklahoma and Texas.
- An image of a Mexican free-tailed bat is used for the Bacardi rum brand.
- Although they are abundant across North American, their populations are declining in many areas, especially California, due to habitat and human disturbance.
- Free-tailed bats are more active when the weather is warm.
- The breed generally prefer caves, but will also roost in buildings if they have access to openings and dark recesses in ceilings or walls.
Bats drink on the wing, like swallows, by sipping the surface, as they play over pools and streams.— Gilbert White
© 2013 Paul Askew