Presenter: Pat Morton

Commission Agenda Item No. 7
Project Bats Aloft
January 1999

I. DISCUSSION: Project Bats Aloft is a three-year research project demonstrating that the tens of millions of Mexican free-tailed bats roosting in Central Texas provide the first line of defense against one of North America's most costly agricultural pests. This bat winters in Mexico and returns to Texas in March. It has long been known that it's the females in large part that make the trip to Texas where they take advantage of great numbers of insects that provide food needed to raise their young. Numerous free-tailed bat colonies in Texas number between one and 20 million individuals.

Doppler radar, weather balloons carrying microphones and high tech DNA markers have been employed by Dr. Gary McCracken, professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, in a study that should convince farmers that the once unpopular 'demon of the night' is actually one of their best friends.

In the first weeks of June, billions of corn ear-worm moths (known also as cotton boll worms) emerge from an agricultural region in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Mexico. They arrive in Texas on the same spring winds that this year brought us smoke as well as moths. In a succession of egg-laying and hatching events, the generations hopscotch north, infesting agriculture through much of central North America. McCracken's radar studies have tracked the high-altitude battle taking place in Texas more than 3000 feet above the ground. Sound recordings of feeding activities and DNA studies have provided the evidence that the bats are indeed eating the agricultural pests.

The results of this study greatly emphasizes the importance of bat conservation in Texas as well as cooperative efforts with Mexico to protect the habitat for this remarkable migratory species.

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