Bats and a changing climate: How scientists are helping an endangered species

Bats are fairly common around San Antonio and other parts of South Texas

Bats are not an unusual sight around San Antonio and South Texas.

In the heart of the city, bats are known to hang out under the Camden Street bridge, among other places. Farther north, the Bracken bat cave is a popular tourist spot for those who’d like to spot more than a few bats.

However, you’ll have to travel several hours west to see the species of bat we’re talking about here! 🦇

Meet the Mexican Long-Nosed Bat

I first learned about the Mexican long-nosed bat while doing some research on Big Bend in West Texas. I had been presented with some interesting data pertaining to the park’s climate.

According to Climate Central, Big Bend leads the list of National Parks expected to see the most warming by the start of the next century. Specifically, it is projected that the number of 100-degree days at the park (per year) will jump from around 17 to more than 100.

This is attributed to the increased frequency of extreme heat events due to climate change.

Big Bend is among the National Parks expected to see extreme warming by the start of the next century (Climate Central)

So, as I was looking into what this warming would mean for the park, I learned that Big Bend is home to some endangered species. One of those species is the Mexican long-nosed bat.

If you look closely at their faces, you’ll probably be able to figure out where they got their name. 😉

A photo of the endangered Mexican long-nosed bat (J. Scott Altenbach)

I wondered what the expected warming in Big Bend would mean for these bats. Were they doomed? Or, could something be done? Thankfully, I found some experts who had answers to those questions and many more.

Agave: Not Just for Tequila

I quickly learned from two scientists with Bat Conservation International that the bats themselves aren’t at direct risk from extreme heat events. For example, they’re not going to experience heat exhaustion because they’ll be able to stay cool in their caves.

However, their food source - agave nectar - is currently being affected by prolonged periods of heat and drought, as well as wildfire. While the large agave is meant to grow in a dry, hot environment, scientists say that the heat waves and drought that are happening more often across parts of Mexico and Texas could be too much for the plant species to withstand. What’s more, another set of data from Climate Central says that drought will be the biggest climate hazard for the Desert Southwest and West Texas by the year 2050.

The top climate hazards that will be facing different parts of the U.S. by the year 2050.

Finding Solutions

In an effort to protect the agave population along the migratory path of the Mexican long-nosed bat, Bat Conservational International has begun an Agave Restoration project. You can read more about their important work and learn how to support their efforts here.

I was was excited to share this story because it proves that action is being taken to combat a climate-related issue. It can be frustrating to see the problems that climate change is causing, especially when no hope for a solution is given.

Hopefully, like me, you’re encouraged by the steps being taken to help save the endangered Mexican long-nosed bat. I hope - also like me - you learned a little about this endangered species, too.

Author’s Note: Thank you to Dr. Winifred Frick and Dr. Kristen Lear with Bat Conservation International for their time and assistance with this story. Additionally, a special thanks to Dr. Lear for providing photo and video of the agave, the bats, and the landscape of Big Bend.

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About the Author:

Kaiti Blake is a child weather-geek-turned-meteorologist. A member of the KSAT Weather Authority, Kaiti is a co-host of the Whatever the Weather video podcast. After graduating from Texas Tech University, Kaiti worked at WJTV 12 in Jackson, Mississippi and KTAB in Abilene.